Tackling causes, not symptoms

Yesterday I was talking on a doorstep with someone who had sent their child to live with a grandparent in a different part of the country – because they were so worried about local levels of knife crime.

When a child has to be exiled from their home for their own safety, that’s heartbreaking.

Knife crime is on the rise. According to the Ben Kinsella Trust:

  • 282 murders involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales took place in the 12 months to March 2022 – the highest total since 1946
  • 99 young people aged under 25 were murdered with a knife or sharp object in the 12 months to March 2022
  • 3,692 admissions to NHS hospitals for assault by a sharp object in the year ending June 2023

Doctors are saying that the knife injuries they are treating are becoming more severe and victims are getting younger, with increasing numbers of girls involved.

Like any inquiry into human behaviour, causes are complex, and should be explored by an expert assembly of police and probation officers, youth workers, psychologists, etc. But here are some ideas about where to start.

Prevention better than cure

I always look to see how we can get upstream of a problem, prevention rather than cure. Incarceration and rehabilitation have a role, but don’t do much to help if you or your child is dead or severely wounded.

Stop and search on suspicion of carrying a weapon was controversial because it disproportionately targeted people of colour. But training on unconscious (and/or conscious) bias may have been better than decimating stop and search, which nosedived from 1.4m searches per year in 2010 to around 0.2m in 2018.

But preventive policing requires enough experienced officers to do the job. In April this year, the Police Federation reported that half of all police forces now have fewer officers than they had in 2010 and voluntary resignations have almost doubled. There are fewer officers on the streets than a decade ago – not to mention the years of accumulated experience that are lost when an officer quits.

Lib Dems want to prevent crime and build communities where people can truly feel safe, including by restoring proper community policing, where officers are visible, trusted and focused on preventing and solving crimes.

Crime and Poverty

Even further upstream of better policing, we should wonder why people, particularly young people, are resorting to crime. About 47% of knife crimes are assaults, and 43% are robberies. Gang violence and drugs are partly responsible.

This is undoubtedly connected with the fact that over 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, including almost 1 in 3 children (more about UK poverty on Wikipedia). Desperate people do desperate things.

The Lib Dems have a target of ending deep poverty within a decade. The majority of people, given the option to meet their needs through legal rather than illegal means, will take it.

Opportunities for young people

And finally, we need to restore hope for the future, and healthy outlets for youthful energy. When I was campaigning on a housing estate near Gloucester last spring, I noticed that parents lamented the lack of amenities for young people, while non-parents grumbled about anti-social behaviour. Seems the two might just be related.

Youth services suffered a 70% funding cut in less than a decade. The YMCA found that local authority expenditure on youth services dropped from £1.4bn in 2010-11 to under £429m in 2018-19, with the loss of 750 youth centres and more than 4,500 youth workers. Small wonder that idle hands find anti-social work to do.

We would do well to look north of the border. After the WHO branded Glasgow the “murder capital of Europe” in 2005, Scotland established the Violence Reduction Unit, which treated knife crime as a public health issue rather than a policing issue, a symptom rather than a cause.

It took a proactive approach, working with the NHS and social services to nurture those most likely to join a gang – youths from poorer backgrounds and those who had been left behind by the education system. The Mentors in Violence Prevention scheme taught students to be kind to each other, and worked with businesses to provide young people with jobs and other opportunities.

Lib Dems also believe in this proactive, nurturing approach. We believe that every child can achieve great things. They deserve the best possible start in life and the opportunity to flourish, no matter their background. But some need a bit of extra support, so we would put a dedicated, qualified mental health professional in every school, and provide extra funding for special educational needs.

Tony Blair famously declared in 1993 that his Labour government would be “tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime”. 30 years later, it seems we still have much to do.

The Middle East
Every day at the moment we are hearing about the dreadful loss of lives in Gaza, following on from the dreadful loss of lives in Israel. Civilians, women and children have been among the casualties on both sides. The level of suffering is impossible to imagine. The Conservatives and Labour are prevaricating. Ed Davey has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, to allow hostages to be released and to get the supplies into Gaza that the civilians there so desperately need.

And finally….

… More cheerful news. Following on from my post about food and farming, some wonderful initiatives worth highlighting:

Gloucestershire Food and Farming Partnership

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

Fascinating facts about soil on the UN’s World Soil Day (5th Dec) website

Quote of the Week

“Be curious, not judgemental.”
— Walt Whitman

Have a great week!


Photo of knife by Hassan Rafhaan on Unsplash
Photo of policeman by King’s Church International on Unsplash
Photo of painted stones by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Photo of gang by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

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