Serious youth violence Contents

2The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy


28.The Government published its Serious Violence Strategy on 9 April last year. In the Foreword to the strategy, the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP said that the Government was “determined to do all it can to break the deadly cycle of violence that devastates the lives of individuals, families and communities”. She described it as “a very significant programme of work involving a range of Government Departments and partners”, supporting “a new balance between prevention and effective law enforcement”, underlining “the importance of steering young people away from crime in the first place, whilst ensuring that the police have the tools and support they need to tackle violent crime”.41

29.Large sections of the strategy are devoted to the Government’s analysis of the root causes of the rise in serious violence. This appears to be based largely on readily-available data, rather than any clear use of Home Offices resources to gather or analyse new data. The strategy states that “most academics agree that big shifts in crime trends tend to be driven by factors outside of the police’s control—like drug trends and markets, changes in housing and vehicle security, and so on”. It rejects claims that rises in violence are linked to a reduction in the use of stop and search, and points to the evidence on the effectiveness of ‘hot-spots policing’,42 and other targeted interventions. The analysis identifies a number of factors likely to be linked to rises in violence. These include:

30.The strategy identifies a number of risk factors for involvement in serious violence, such as male gender, younger age, adverse childhood experiences, and ethnic background. It also draws on David Lammy’s review of Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in the criminal justice system: it refers to a “significant amount of distrust between children and young people from BAME communities and the criminal justice system”, adding: “Research shows that this lack of trust among children and young people stems from experiences of being stereotyped and harassed”. We explore the interaction between ethnicity and serious violence in Chapter 6 of this report, and touch on disproportionality in stop and search in Chapter 5.

31.The strategy’s launch was overshadowed by a Home Office paper leaked to the press in advance, which suggested a link between police funding cuts and rising violence. According to The Guardian, the leak stated that there is “good evidence that increasing resources dedicated to targeted hot-spots and prolific offenders can be effective, but there are several competing demands for any additional resource”. It noted that “resources dedicated to serious violence have come under pressure and charge rates have dropped”, which “may have encouraged offenders”, and concluded that diminishing police resources were “unlikely to be the factor that triggered the shift in serious violence, but may be an underlying driver that has allowed the rise to continue”.44 The final version of the strategy acknowledges that “certainty of punishment is likely to have a greater impact than its severity”, and “The recent downward trend in arrests and charges for some crimes lessens the certainty of punishment”.45

Actions and commitments

32.The Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins MP, told us in May that the strategy includes “61 very detailed commitments” for the Government and other public agencies, 45 of which had been completed by that point. This may partly be explained by the fact that a number of the strategy’s “key actions and commitments” were existing Government policies, such as the Troubled Families programme, which has been seeking to ‘turn around’ families with multiple problems since 2012, and the Government’s continued support for co-ordinated weeks of police action against knife crime under Operation Sceptre, which was launched by the Metropolitan Police in July 2015. The strategy does not set out any clear targets or milestones, and the commitments are frequently unaccompanied by any details about how they will be fulfilled.

33.Some of the strategy’s more notable commitments include:

Subsequent announcements

34.The Government has announced a number of additional actions relating to serious violence since the strategy was launched. These include:

Is the Serious Violence Strategy fit for purpose?

35.A key focus of our inquiry has been the extent to which the Serious Violence Strategy is coherent, comprehensive and ambitious enough to match the scale of the problem outlined in Chapter 1, and whether there are sufficient resources in place to underpin it. We assess some of the individual measures and announcements included in the Government’s strategy in subsequent chapters. We consider the issue of funding in detail in Chapters 5 and 6 of this report, but we turn now to the evidence we have received on the quality and content of the strategy and subsequent announcements, before considering broader Government leadership issues in Chapter 3.

36.Policing leaders gave us measured assessments of the strategy: the then Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Chief Constable Sara Thornton, said that “it is a really good strategy in terms of an understanding of the drivers of serious violence”, but that it “needs driving strongly and it also needs more co-ordinated and concerted resources behind it”.54 Similarly, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said that “the strategy from my point of view is fine”, but went on to criticise the lack of Government action on the ground.55 Chief Constable Dave Thompson suggested that not enough had changed since previous Government programmes were delivered:

I have been around policing a long while. I saw the TGAP [Tacking Gangs Action] programme; I was involved in the Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme; and here we are again. What happens is we do not drive forward a sustained, consistent approach, or recognise that if we take our foot off this problem—that problem is the resilience of young people—we get back here really quickly, with a vengeance.56

37.In the same vein, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, said in written evidence that the Ending Gang and Youth Violence (EGYV) report had very similar themes to the Serious Violence Strategy, and claimed to be the first truly cross-Government approach to the issue. He argued that both EGYV and the Serious Violence Strategy suffer from being “short term”, and that both “lack sustainability”.57 Our predecessor Committee’s 2015 report on gangs and youth crime noted the lack of common datasets across the country on gang-related measures, and called for the Government to review the effectiveness of the EGYV programme.58

38.Sir Denis O’Connor, the former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said the strategy was “much more concerned with its narrative and less [with] action”, adding that the analysis is “really inadequate”, and that the “aim is not absolutely clear beyond to make things better”. He argued that the lack of targets was also a problem: “If you really want to engage people and professionals and you want to drive some change, you have to have some aims so you know whether you are on track or not”.59 Dame Louise Casey, the former head of the Troubled Families programme, said that the strategy is “woefully inadequate”, and “not a match for what we are dealing with”, adding:

It is not a coherent, overall Government strategy that essentially pushes forward into the communities, with an implementation behind it that is felt. That is the key problem for me.60

39.Dame Louise also called for targets to drive action:

[ … ] When you are sat in the centre trying to work out what to do, my advice to people is always to set targets. [ … ] I think that this kind of laissez-faire, hands-off approach, in which people make up their own minds what they do, just has to stop, because the problem is too great.61

When the Minister gave evidence to us May, she told us that “We debate targets at great length at the Home Office”, and said that the Department does not have a target for homicide, but it looks at “other measures to determine the success or the movement that our policies are making”.62 When pressed, however, she was unable to name a single measure or target used by the Government to determine the success of its strategy, pointing only to data used by individual police forces, such as the Met.

40.The Serious Violence Strategy contains a relatively coherent analysis of the scale of the problem and the potential causes. It identifies many of the factors likely to be driving the recent wave in serious violence, which align with our own findings, from county lines through to vulnerability. We welcome its assessment of the broad range of causes of serious violence, as well as its commitment to a public health approach. As the Government’s primary response to the wave of violence blighting our communities, however, it is completely inadequate. It contains no targets or milestones, few new actions, and no clear mechanisms for driving forward activity at a national and regional level. Nor does it suggest a clear Government focus on keeping young people safe from rising levels of violence.

41.Although the strategy refers to risk factors for involvement in violence, its analysis is based largely on readily-available evidence. It is not underpinned by any attempt to collect data or gain a clear understanding of the number of people—particularly young people—at risk of serious violence. We fail to see how the Government can get a grip on this problem or pursue a public health approach without a clear understanding of the size and location of the populations most at risk, so that it can target resources effectively. Furthermore, it cannot measure progress effectively without clear milestones, along with timescales for achieving them.

42.The strategy states that serious violence comes at “a huge cost to individuals, families and communities through loss of life, and the trauma caused through both the physical and psychological injuries suffered”. We agree; but there is a serious mismatch between the Government’s diagnosis of the problem and its proposed solutions. This is symptomatic of wider dysfunctions within the Government’s response to this issue, and its approach to crime and disorder more broadly, which we explore in further detail in the next chapter.

41 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

42 The College of Policing describes hot spots policing as “a strategy that involves the targeting of resources and activities to those places where crime is most concentrated. The strategy is based on the premise that crime and disorder is not evenly spread within neighbourhoods but clustered in small locations. […] Activities could include increased police patrols and law enforcement or problem solving.”

43 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

45 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

47 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

49 Home Office news story, Home Secretary to take action against violent content online, 24 April 2019

50 Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government press release, £5 million fund to deter young people from gang and knife crime, 20 October 2018

53 Part 2 of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019

57 Police and Crime Commissioner West Midlands (SVC0020)

58 House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Gangs and youth crime (HC199), 27 February 2015

Published: 31 July 2019