Serious youth violence Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The scale of the problem and its impact

1.Since Philippa, Darren, Yvonne and Caroline gave evidence to us about their sons’ deaths and legacies, many more young people have had their lives cut short in tragic circumstances. We cannot hope to tell all their stories on these pages, but we can at least pay tribute to the witnesses who sat before us and laid bare their pain and loss. We cannot express strongly enough our sympathy for them, and we thank them for their determination and bravery. 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. The Government must make it a central priority to keep young people safe, and prevent more families from going through this terrible trauma. (Paragraph 11)

2.The last few years have seen a drastic increase in murder rates, along with enormous rises in police-recorded knife crime. Although violence overall has decreased over the long-term and shown little change in the last few years, the most serious forms of violent crime have spiked in recent years. This is confirmed by NHS data, which shows that more people are being admitted to hospital with knife wounds every year. (Paragraph 17)

3.Crime figures show clearly that it is not just London and other major cities that are being blighted by recent increases in serious violence. There is a clear need for a concerted action across the length and breadth of the country, including the many communities now affected by county lines drugs violence, which we explore further in Chapter 4. (Paragraph 21)

The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy

4.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. (Paragraph 40)

5.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. (Paragraph 41)

6.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. (Paragraph 42)

Government leadership on Serious Violence

7.The Serious Violence Taskforce, along with the Inter-ministerial Group on Serious Violence, has been one of the Government’s main drivers of national action and oversight of the Serious Violence Strategy. We are therefore concerned by the infrequency of the Taskforce’s meetings and the absence of measurable targets or milestones for it to work towards, or on which it can hold to account the Government, local agencies and other organisations involved in delivering the strategy. Criticisms that it is a London-centric group are also cause for concern. The Taskforce did not meet at all between July and October 2018, a period in which knife crime was continuing to rise. This does not paint a picture of focused, sustained and proactive scrutiny and action. There is little evidence of resulting action or policy change, either from the Inter-Ministerial Group or the Taskforce. Moreover, the fact that the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council had not seen minutes from any of the Taskforce’s meetings is an indictment of its profile and levels of output. (Paragraph 49)

8.The Government and local authorities need to address urgently the widening gap between demand for and provision of public health services, in the context of links between alcohol and susceptibility to serious violence. Serious consideration should also be given to the appropriate provision of services, balancing harm reduction for users with wider public safety concerns. Engagement with mental health services is also crucial to ensuring appropriate provision. (Paragraph 55)

9.Our 2018 report, “Policing for the Future”, argued that the Home Office must step up to the plate and play a much stronger role in policing policy, highlighting the many weaknesses created by a fragmented approach to governance and decision-making. This chapter has laid bare the weaknesses of the Government’s response to serious youth violence, including the lack of national or regional ownership of the problem. (Paragraph 68)

10.The Home Office’s response to serious youth violence appears to have been limited to the production of a limited strategy and the convening of a few roundtable discussions. The Department’s approach is not fit for the task at hand, and its lack of national leadership on this issue is evidence beyond doubt of the need for a change in direction. It would be supremely irresponsible for the Government simply to leave it to 43 PCCs and 43 chief constables to determine their own local response to this national crisis. (Paragraph 69)

11.Following the Prime Minister’s summit in April, the establishment of a Ministerial Taskforce on Serious Violence is welcome, along with the Cabinet Office team due to support its work. Although this should have been in place years ago, it does suggest that the Government is finally taking this issue more seriously. We are concerned, however, that any momentum generated by the PM’s summit is being lost, and we are not convinced that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are treating serious violence with the urgency and focus it requires, ensuring that the Prime Minister’s Taskforce has the resources it needs in order to function effectively and target resources in the right places. We recommend that the new Prime Minister takes personal responsibility for reducing serious youth violence and driving activity in this area, tasking Cabinet Ministers with taking ownership for key actions. (Paragraph 70)

12.We are also concerned by the absence of local or regional accountability for reducing serious youth violence, in the context of a complex network of local stakeholders in policing, local government, education and civil society. We fail to see how the Government can get a grip on this problem without clear lines of communication and accountability for progress on the ground. By the end of September, the Government should provide us with a list of named accountable leaders in every region or county of England and Wales. This might be a PCC, a mayor, or the leader of a local safeguarding partnership or violence reduction unit, for example. They must be identifiable locally as the individual reporting directly to 10 Downing Street, and responsible for convening those who need to work together to drive down serious youth violence. (Paragraph 71)

13.Ministers have spoken repeatedly of the need to take a ‘public health’ approach to serious violence. It is extremely difficult to target public health interventions without an understanding of the size of the population at risk, and yet the Government has not identified the number of children at risk of involvement in serious youth violence, pointing only to inadequate and readily-available sources of data on crime and safeguarding. A recent National Audit Office report also found that the Government does not yet have the data it needs on serious and organised crime to coordinate an effective response. (Paragraph 72)

14.The Ministerial Taskforce and the Serious Violence Taskforce should be monitoring progress across a common dataset, collected consistently across the country. That data should also be driving and informing local action to tackle serious youth violence, led by the regional or local leads. We recommend that the new Cabinet Office team prioritises the establishment of such a dataset at the earliest opportunity, and reports back to us on its progress by the end of October 2019. It should also inform us what targets or milestones the Government has set in relation to reducing serious youth violence, and by what date it intends to meet those targets. (Paragraph 73)

The changing drug market and county lines

15.Government and law enforcement efforts to tackle county lines criminality have been hampered by wider failings in the response to serious and organised crime. Fragmented governance and funding structures and poor coordination of resources have been contributory factors in giving county lines offenders a head start, making it easier for this terrible form of exploitation to flourish. (Paragraph 97)

16.County lines exploitation is blighting communities and destroying young lives. 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. These systems and processes have failed badly to keep up with county lines groups, who exploit and abuse children who may be perfectly safe in their family home. Later this year, Safeguarding Children Boards are due to be replaced with new arrangements, with clearer responsibilities for contextual safeguarding. The Government must prioritise safeguarding in the upcoming spending review, with ringfenced resources for safeguarding partners to ensure that they operate much more effectively. It is not enough to expect separate agencies—the police, local authorities and the NHS—to resource inter-agency partnership work, given the financial and operational constraints within which they are operating. (Paragraph 105)

17.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 via the regional serious violence leads that we recommended in Chapter 3. The Government should also examine whether changes are needed to the statutory framework and resources underpinning child safeguarding, to ensure that children abused outside the home do not fall under the threshold for social services support. (Paragraph 106)

18.The Government has proposed a public health duty to share data, but there is also a need to address the non-legislative barriers that inhibit data-sharing. Legislation already requires agencies to share data in order to protect children and reduce serious violence. The evidence we received suggests that problems with data-sharing are more closely tied to lack of resources at a local level, alongside widespread misunderstandings about data protection law. The Government should consider whether a national data-sharing protocol should be established for the new safeguarding structures being created. Ministers should also examine the case for funding the Information Commissioner to establish an advice service on data-sharing between public agencies. The new serious violence team within the Cabinet Office should send us a written update on this issue by the end of September. (Paragraph 114)

19.The UK has one of the highest rates of drug deaths in Europe—in England and Wales, drug deaths are three times the European average, and in Scotland they are ten times the European average. Government leadership on county lines and drug markets has been woefully inadequate. On all reasonable measures, the Home Office’s Drug Strategy is failing miserably. The Government has acknowledged the link between the drug market and violence: it must now take urgent action to reduce demand by improving the provision of treatment for drug users. There is no need to await the outcome of Dame Carol Black’s review, when the links between violence and demand for Class A drugs are so clear. (Paragraph 121)

20.We have major concerns about the apparent growth of a 24/7 ‘dial a dealer’ drug culture, and the turf wars associated with this profitable market. The explosive growth both in drug gangs exploiting young people and in county lines criminality is damning evidence of systemic failures within current structures and processes for law enforcement and child protection. Combatting county lines requires far more than an acute response from the National Crime Agency and the police service. More action is needed against organised criminal groups, but county lines activity has been sustained by a thriving market for Class A drugs, a growth in the number of vulnerable young people, and a failure of safeguarding and law enforcement agencies to operate effectively across borders and share data on at-risk children. (Paragraph 122)


21.We welcome the additional in-year funding for policing to tackle serious violence. We also strongly welcome the creation of violence reduction units to coordinate the police response with other partners. They have the potential to have a major impact on coordinating a cross-agency approach to serious violence, providing there is clear local leadership and commitment from all the relevant agencies. However, we are very concerned by the short term nature of the funding that has been announced. The lack of commitment for future years makes it harder for forces to use the money to recruit and train additional staff, and means that the focus is more likely to be on funding overtime by existing staff. Given that many police officers and staff are already stretched by additional overtime and other demands, we do not believe that this is a sustainable or desirable approach. We reiterate the call we made last year, in our Policing for the Future report, 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. (Paragraph 132)

22.While we welcome the news that the Home Office is investing in a social media hub to tackle the roots of online content, we are concerned that a team of only 17 police staff and officers will be unable truly to tackle this issue. Yet again, there appears to have been failure on the part of social media companies to address this issue adequately. (Paragraph 134)

23.Intelligence-led stop and search is a core aspect of the ‘surge’ policing response to violent crime. When used properly, in a focused and professional way, it can be an important part of keeping communities safe. Too often, however, it has alienated the most heavily-policed communities and undermined trust in the police, particularly among young people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds—especially when many young people do not see their local neighbourhood officers at all. There remains significant disproportionality in stop and search, which is not explained or justified by the increased likelihood of becoming a victim of knife crime if you are Black—particularly without a parallel programme of intensive community engagement. 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. (Paragraph 150)

24.It is absolutely vital that the Home Office prioritises investment in neighbourhood policing and safer schools’ officers in the next spending review, to enable policing to rebuild vital links with the communities and people most affected by serious violence. By the beginning of April 2020, all schools in areas with an above-average risk of serious youth violence should have a dedicated school police officer. We also reiterate our previous recommendation that the Home Office should move to a long-term funding settlement for policing, to allow for much-needed investment in the frontline workforce. (Paragraph 151)

Prevention, early intervention and youth services

25.There is very strong evidence linking deprivation and vulnerability with knife crime and serious youth violence. This points to the need for a broad, population-wide approach to prevention, with enhanced interventions to support the communities most at risk of violence. (Paragraph 162)

School exclusion

26.We are concerned about the links between school exclusion and knife crime, which suggest that our education system is currently failing many children, including those most in need of holistic support and early intervention. There is a pressing need for more investment in wraparound support to keep a child in mainstream education. The presence in a child of multiple risk factors for school exclusion should be an instant ‘red flag’ for additional support, and the Government must act quickly to implement the recommendations of the Timpson Review. Providing only part-time timetables in alternative provision is also a very serious failing. Most of those who have been excluded from school are in need of more social, educational and emotional support—not less. They are already more vulnerable to being drawn into exploitation or risky behaviour, and they should not be left to spend even more time on the streets. Urgent action is needed to ensure that they have full-time support. (Paragraph 170)

27.The Timpson Review has been criticised for its lack of recommendations on closing racial disparities in school exclusion, despite evidence that Black children are excluded at a higher rate than White children, even when controlling for other risk factors. Given the links between school exclusion and serious violence, we are particularly concerned about this form of disparity, and do not regard Mr Timpson’s recommendations as sufficient to address it. The Department for Education should take action to tackle racial disproportionality in school exclusion, if necessary via a separate independent review. (Paragraph 171)

Effective youth interventions

28.We welcome the Government’s recognition that it needs to take a public health approach to serious violence, diagnosing and treating the root causes, rather than dealing with the acute outcomes through the criminal justice system and the accident and emergency departments. However, greater thought needs to be given to what sustained and coherent preventative interventions should look like, and how to ensure that public funding is diverted towards the most effective approaches, using data on the populations most at risk. This is linked to the Government’s lack of understanding of the reality on the ground, and its failure to get a grip on this problem at the national level. (Paragraph 190)

29.Clearly, it is far better to treat the cause of an illness or problem than to treat the symptoms. Although there will always be a need for a strong police response to serious violence, any criminal justice intervention is almost always an acute treatment for a deeper and longer-term problem. Nevertheless, the Government cannot just refer to any non-police intervention as the ‘public health’ approach. Its rhetoric does not match the reality of the actual interventions taking place in communities. (Paragraph 191)

30.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. Young people have been failed in the most devastating way, and they are losing their lives as a result. This country is full of resourceful, intelligent and energetic young people who need empowerment, opportunity, something to strive for, a safe space to spend their free time, and trusted adults to turn to when they need help or advice. (Paragraph 192)

31.Witnesses to this inquiry were almost united in their calls for more youth services, but local authority budgets are being increasingly consumed by statutory services, such as social care. We welcome the Government’s additional funding for youth intervention projects, such as the Youth Endowment Fund and the Supporting Families Against Youth Crime Fund, but these programmes are far too fragmented and small-scale. In addition, it is not at all clear how they fit together, where the strategic responsibility for youth interventions in each area lies, or whether communities and councils will get stuck in an endless bidding process to different departments simply to maintain existing services. (Paragraph 193)

32.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. It should include enhanced provision in areas with higher-than-average risk factors linked to serious youth violence, such as under-25 knife crime and school exclusion. It must also be coupled with proper mental health provision for young people, informed by an understanding of the impact of trauma and other adverse childhood experiences. (Paragraph 194)

Public funding for tackling serious youth violence

33.Given the scale of the problem we face in relation to serious youth violence, we are concerned that public services do not have the resources that they need in order to address it. Recent spending commitments have been fragmented and are not based on an evidence-based understanding of where investment is needed most. In the context of a decade of reductions to police and youth service funding, current levels of Government investment in tackling serious violence are completely inadequate, and do not even begin to match the scale of the problem. Funding announcements have been piecemeal and far too short-term: spending needs to be committed over a three to five year period, to allow for proper planning and frontloaded investment where necessary. (Paragraph 199)

34.Over the last decade, many of the ties that bind communities together have been severed, from youth workers and neighbourhood police officers to community safety teams and safer schools officers. Local authority finances are being increasingly consumed by statutory services such as social care, housing and looked-after children, and council budgets will not benefit directly from savings to the criminal justice system and the health service. The Government must ensure that additional funding is made available to invest in effective activity to reduce serious violence. It needs to recognise that prevention is a far more cost-effective alternative to spending so much money on reactive and acute responses later on, which cost the taxpayer far more in the long term. (Paragraph 200)

35.This report has set out what structures and reporting mechanisms are needed to drive change rapidly, at a national and local level. We have outlined what the Government needs to do to get a grip on this situation. We have focused on the factors most likely to be driving the increase in serious youth violence, including drug use, deprivation, social and school exclusion, and a lack of support services for young people. We have argued for more support for neighbourhood policing and for shifting investment into the early intervention services that need it most, and that have the best chance of turning this terrible tide. We do not need to wait years for this to change: with serious action now, young lives can be saved. (Paragraph 201)

Published: 31 July 2019