This Home Affairs Committee report considers the rise in serious youth violence in recent years, including the key issues driving these trends, and whether the Government’s response matches the scale of the problem.
Police-recorded homicides have increased by over a third in the last five years, and knife offences have risen by over 70%. The number of under-18s admitted to hospital with knife injuries also rose by a third between 2013–14 and 2017–18. A growing number of young males, in particular, are being murdered on our streets.
Our inquiry has found that recent rises in serious youth violence are a social emergency, which must be addressed through much more concerted Government action at a national and local level. We have concluded that the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy is a completely inadequate response to this wave of violence blighting our communities. It contains no targets or milestones, few new actions, and no clear mechanisms for driving forward activity at a national and regional level.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to a public health approach and the broad analysis that lies behind its Serious Violence Strategy. We agree that action is needed on a wide range of causes of violence, from tackling deprivation and vulnerability to increasing policing and action on serious organised crime. Nevertheless, the Government cannot just refer to any non-police intervention as the ‘public health’ approach. This rhetoric does not match the reality of the actual interventions taking place in communities.
We have found that there is a serious mismatch between the Government’s diagnosis of the problem and its proposed solutions. We believe that its strategy lacks leadership and focus, and that the Government needs to ensure that there is more action to address ‘county lines’ and changing drug markets, more long term support for neighbourhood policing, and much more early intervention and prevention work to prevent young lives from being lost.
We recommend that:
We found that ‘county lines’ and the changing drug market is contributing to the rise in serious violence, but that not enough is being done to prevent children from being exploited, communities being blighted and young lives being destroyed. Children have been let down by safeguarding systems that are far too narrowly focused on risks inside the family home, as well as an ongoing failure of agencies to work effectively together to build a package of support around young people.
We call on the Government to prioritise safeguarding in the upcoming spending review, with ringfenced resources for safeguarding partners to ensure that they operate much more effectively. Safeguarding bodies should be given a duty to produce local plans, with clear targets and milestones, to reduce the number of children at risk locally of county lines exploitation, reporting back to the Home Office on a regular basis.
We welcome the additional funding this year for policing to tackle serious violence, as well as the creation of violence reduction units to coordinate the police response with other partners, but we are very concerned by the short term nature of the funding that has been announced. We reiterate our previous calls for the Government to make available substantial additional resources for policing, so that forces can recruit additional officers and staff, both to respond to serious organised crime and to increase community prevention activity, neighbourhood policing and schools officers.
We also found that more needs to be done to increase the confidence of young people in the police—particularly young people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, who are experiencing disproportionate levels of stop and search at a time when there has been a marked reduction in community policing. We will explore this subject in further detail when we report on our inquiry to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Macpherson report, later this year. We recommend investing in neighbourhood policing and ensuring that, by the beginning of April 2020, all schools in areas with an above-average risk of serious youth violence have a dedicated school police officer.
Most of all, we are concerned that more action is needed urgently on prevention and early intervention. We have found very strong evidence linking deprivation and vulnerability with knife crime and serious youth violence. The current epidemic of youth violence has been exacerbated by a perfect storm emerging from cuts to youth services, heavily reduced police budgets, a growing number of children being excluded from school and taken into care, and a failure of statutory agencies to keep young people safe from exploitation and violence. We welcome the Government’s funding for youth intervention projects, but these investments are far too fragmented and small-scale.
The Government needs to introduce a fully-funded, statutory minimum of provision for youth outreach workers and community youth projects in all areas, co-designed with local young people. This would be a national Youth Service Guarantee, with a substantial increase in services and ringfenced funding from central Government, to ensure that young people have safe places to go and support to prevent them from becoming caught up in violence. And we call for urgent action to tackle school exclusions and part–time timetables in pupil referral units, as well as stronger safeguarding mechanisms to reach those who are most vulnerable. With serious action now, young lives can be saved.
Published: 31 July 2019