Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Violent knife offending has tended to mirror trends in overall violent crime, which rose sharply in the 1970s and 1980s but has fallen since the mid-1990s. However, the number of knife homicides increased by over a quarter between 2005/06 and 2006/07; there also appeared to be a rise in other serious knife violence during this year. In addition, a 48% increase in stab-related hospital admissions between 1997/98 and 2006/07 may indicate that knives are being used to inflict more serious wounds.

As with overall violence, the majority of knife victims and perpetrators are young men in their late teens and early twenties. There is also a significant proportion of knife offending that is linked to domestic violence. However, the high levels of knife violence since 2006 appear to be the result of an increase in street violence between groups of young people who are sometimes referred to as 'gangs'. While rural areas have experienced a small increase in knife injuries, knife violence is concentrated in the deprived parts of big cities.

It is difficult to estimate how many young people carry knives but there are fears it is becoming 'normal' in some areas. Young people tend to carry pen knives or flick knives, but kitchen knives are more commonly used in stabbings. Most young people who carry knives say they do so for 'protection'; status and peer pressure are also factors. This perceived need for protection is compounded by the sense, reinforced by media coverage of stabbings, that everyone else is carrying a weapon, as well as experience of victimisation. In terms of knife-users, socially excluded young people from dysfunctional families are more predisposed to be violent, particularly those who witness or experience violence in the home.

Our findings convinced us of the need to target knife-carriers and violent offenders separately. For the former, we advocate education in schools about the realities of knife-carrying and measures to help young people feel safer, such as improving confidence in the police and better victim support. Evidence suggests that the prospect of being caught can deter young people from breaking the law. We therefore support the use of stop and search, providing it is carried out in an appropriate manner.

While we encourage the use of custody as an appropriate sentence for the majority of knife-carriers and for violent offenders, high re-offending rates highlight its ineffectiveness as a long-term solution to violent crime. We recommend the expansion of offending behaviour and resettlement programmes as a means to reduce re-offending by prisoners, as well as interventions with young people on the cusp of more serious offending.

Finally, we advocate the adoption of a long-term violence reduction strategy that focuses on prevention. Evidence from the US points to the savings that can be made to the criminal justice system by investing resources in preventative initiatives, as well as the benefits to individuals and their communities. We specifically recommend better data-sharing about knife violence at a local level, early intervention with babies and toddlers born into dysfunctional families and a more strategic approach to providing diversionary activities and support for excluded young people.

Key facts and figures

  • The number of knife homicides rose by 26.9% between 2005/06 and 2006/07. There were 270 knife homicides in 2007/08: the highest total since the Homicide Index was introduced in 1977.
  • Knifes were used in 6% of British Crime Survey violent incidents in 2007/08. This is estimated to correspond to use in approximately 138,000 robberies, woundings or assaults taking place throughout England and Wales in that year.
  • 5,239 people were admitted to NHS hospitals in England with a stab wound in 2007/08. The number of patients admitted rose by 48% between 1997/98 and 2006/07.
  • The median age of British Crime Survey knife victims has declined since 2004/05. Between 2003 and 2007 stab-related hospital admissions for under-16s increased by 62.7%.
  • Penknives and flick knives are most routinely carried but kitchen knives are more frequently used in injuries presenting to hospital.
  • 85% of young people who carry knives claim they do so "for protection".
  • 21% of people convicted of possessing an offensive weapon were jailed in the last quarter of 2008.
  • More than half of prisoners re-offend within a year of release.
  • 5% of young people commit half of all youth crime. The Government estimates that they come from 110,000 high risk families, 20,000 of whom require intensive interventions.
  • The organisation Kids Count estimates that knife crime costs the state in the region of £1.25 billion per year.

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Prepared 2 June 2009