Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Annex C: UNCUT meeting notes

We met with staff from the organisation UNCUT, their partners and around 20 children and young people of primary and secondary school age, including former gang members to discuss their experiences of street violence and solutions.

As part of the meeting we watched a DVD made by UNCUT depicting a fatal stabbing scenario that has been shown in London schools over the last six months.

The work of UNCUT

Sean Simms, UNCUT Project Manager, gave a presentation on the work of the organisation. UNCUT was launched in March 2007 to investigate the motivations behind weapon carrying with the aim of changing the attitudes of 10-18 year olds and delivering a range of preventative initiatives which could then be integrated into mainstream services.

An initial consultation was carried out with over 200 young people in North Westminster with the following results:

  • The majority of young people knew someone who carried a knife.
  • Many older boys were aware of gang activity.
  • Many young people did not feel safe.
  • Older girls felt that boys lacked the motivation to do positive activities.
  • Older boys were very pessimistic about effecting change in weapon carrying.
  • Most felt that the police should do more about knife crime.
  • However, the majority would not report incidents to the police or their parents.
  • The main motivations for carrying were protection (self-defence), committing robberies and peer pressure.
  • Most felt the situation with regard to weapon carrying was getting worse.

UNCUT then held a series of workshops with young people, in which the following suggestions were made as means of discouraging knife carrying:

  • Talks with relatives of fatal stab victims;
  • Showing videos of stabbings;
  • Role plays;
  • Visits to criminal trials and A&E departments to witness the consequences;
  • Self-defence classes; and
  • Group discussions.

UNCUT now carries out the following work:

  • School assemblies focused on fatal stabbings;
  • Workshops on conflict management, young people and the law, the aftermath of knife crime, and the UNCUT Parents' Programme; and
  • One-to-one mentoring.

UNCUT has worked with approximately 1050 young people in total.

The group sessions are an opportunity to engage with young people, to increase awareness and to build their skills in dealing with situations. Following these, a Further Intervention Assessment is carried out, involving parents, and if deemed necessary one-to-one sessions are held to build confidence and change attitudes and behaviour. Referrals are also made to Youth Inclusion and Support Panels, school counsellors and so forth.

Discussion point: Is "the street" becoming more violent?

There was a lot of disagreement about this amongst the young people. The general view was that confrontation between gangs has become more subtle and more personal. Previously there would be confrontations involving lots of people fist-fighting, whereas now there are more knives involved.

Discussion point: The effect of criminal penalties

The young people again took a mixed view. Some argued in favour of awarding tougher sentences to knife carriers to act as a deterrent. Others argued that sentencing is irrelevant, that young people are more worried about the immediate situation they find themselves in rather than fearing longer-term consequences: they feel they have to be aggressive because of the way things are on the street.

The Youth Offending Team is now dealing with more young people serving longer sentences for weapon possession. Sean is training their staff to deliver a different approach which focuses on conflict resolution.

Discussion point: The influence of "elders"

The community "elders" (defined by the young people as typically 19 and 20 year olds) act like parents "out on the road". They have a huge influence on younger teenagers, who will follow their example, good or bad. If they see them dealing drugs and getting flash cars, they want to emulate that lifestyle. But if they can be a good influence, they can help them avoid temptation. One former-gang member and stab victim described how he tries to help younger kids resist joining gangs, or leave them if they have already joined, by learning from his experiences.

Another boy described how mentoring had helped him to leave a gang when he was worried about retaliation from the older gang members.

Discussion point: The role of parents

The young people explained that no matter what their parents said to them at home, when they're "out on the road" it's different. Their parents don't know what they are up to.

The adults present emphasised the importance of educating parents about the signs of gang membership or criminality, because their children don't tell them what's going on.

Some of the young people argued that a lack of parental discipline is not the issue, as parents from African communities are actually very strict with their children. They love and respect their families. But there are different rules at home and on the street.

Discussion point: Shock tactics as a deterrent

A paramedic described the talks she gives in school assemblies about her experiences of attending stabbings. She plays the CD of a real 999 call, which gets a very emotional reaction, and also educates children about actions to take if they witness a stabbing.

There was a discussion around whether fear of death was a deterrent. The young people explained that the prevailing attitude is often "get money quick because you're going to die young". If you ask some young people where they think they will be in ten years, they will reply "dead or in prison". UNCUT workers argued in favour of more one-to-one work with kids as they will respond differently from when they are in a group and are more likely to admit to aspiration.

The paramedic wondered if it might be a more effective deterrent to emphasise that a stab victim could spend the rest of his or her life paralysed or disabled, to show that there is nothing glamorous about knives.

Discussion point: The transition from primary to secondary school

The adults present argued that targeting awareness-raising at 10 and 11 year olds is important. Primary school aged children are already aware of gang activities.

Primary school children are frightened of being bullied when they go to secondary school. One of the benefits of UNCUT is they bring in older children to talk to primary school children and they give them advice about how to handle the transition and emphasise that knives are not the answer.

Discussion point: Negative portrayals of young people

The young people asked why it is that adults always assume they are going to cause trouble.

They argued for more positive stories in the media about the achievements of young people.

Discussion point: The role of teachers

Young people are advised to tell their teacher if they are being bullied, but they find it difficult to talk to teachers; they only talk to people who they feel comfortable with.

One of the teachers said that it was more effective for UNCUT to intervene with a child than for a teacher.

Young people said that they were more likely to open up to teachers if they took time to see them in their own environment, such as youth centres. Teachers are often surprised to discover that their pupils are in gangs. In return the teachers explained that they need more help with behavioural support to be able to give adequate attention to all pupils.

One young person argued that if you are caught with a knife at school, you are expelled, but no-one helps you to change your attitude.

Discussion point: The need for positive alternatives

The young people explained that there are so many of their peers who want to be in projects like UNCUT but there is not enough space for them.

They also argued for more job opportunities to show that there are alternatives to making money besides dealing drugs; and for more funding for youth clubs.

From their own personal experiences of turning their lives around, they emphasised the need to show young people what they can do with their lives.

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