Knife Crime: from political football to public health

Posted On: 
10th May 2019

Knife crime has dominated headlines, engulfed parliamentary discussions and debates for years, and yet the heightened awareness and publicity has had no significant impact on reducing the problem, writes Laura Hutchinson.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Steve House, observe a bag search during a visit to Angel underground station to announce plans to allow more police officers enhanced stop and search powers as part of continued action to tackle to knife crime.
Credit: 
PA

Knife crime has dominated headlines, engulfed parliamentary discussions and debates for years, and yet the heightened awareness and publicity has had no significant impact on reducing the problem. Lawmakers, law enforcers and lobbyists are struggling to agree on a unifying approach to the issue – or even identify one that indicates proven effectiveness. There has recently been a wider cross-party acceptance about the need for a more holistic, and public health approach to the issue but the controversy around funding remains.

There has been a rise in knife crime

Changes in the prevalence of crime can be hard to measure accurately due to differing techniques and standards in reporting and recording. Underreporting can also occur, particularly with offences such as knife crime where victims may not feel comfortable engaging with the police.

Despite this, however, the most recent Office for National Statistics report on crime in England and Wales has given the most accurate portrayal and comparison of crime measurements by combining Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and police recorded crime. The report clearly marks an increase in knife crime of 33 percent since March 2011, the earliest point for which comparable data is available, and a particularly significant increase in the past four years. The number of police recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in the year ending December 2018 was 40,829 (excluding Greater Manchester Police).

Political controversy on the causes of knife crime

The cause of knife crime has been treated as a long running party political issue, as have the solutions.

Issues surrounding stop-and-search and harsher sentences remain controversial, and the Prime Minister insisted earlier this year that there was “no direct correlation” between the rise of knife crime and the cuts to police numbers.

The Government insist that the causes of knife crime are “complex”, but the opposition argue that the austerity agenda pursued since 2010 bears overwhelming responsibility and police cuts have negatively impacted community safety and cohesion. Labour maintains the Government are ‘in denial’ over the problem, and a recent report from the APPG on Knife Crime shows a direct correlation between cuts to youth service budgets in local authorities and a rise in knife crime.

It seems obvious that the causes of knife crime are multi-layered, and often complex in that there is no one single factor behind it. Some point to school exclusions as a trigger, whilst others argue drugs and fewer ‘bobbies on the beat’ are more influential.

There are clear demographic patterns

There are, however, some consensus trends behind knife crime that need to be acknowledged more widely if the problem is to be tackled.

NHS data shows that the overwhelming majority of those admitted to hospital in year ending March 2018, with injuries consistent with assault with a sharp weapon, were under 30. An astonishing 4,665 of the 4,986 admitted were male. ONS data clearly indicates that the highest rates of knife crime are concentrated in metropolitan, urban areas. In London, where the highest incidents occur, those from BAME and disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately affected.

Without recognising these trends and the linked issues that affect these demographics, then the issue won’t be solved anytime soon. 

Prevention Orders are controversial

Critics of the Home Secretary argue that his approach is too hard-line and focusses too much on criminalising the offence and not enough on preventative measures. His Knife Crime Prevention Orders can be issued to anyone over 12 who is thought to be carrying knives and a breach of them would be a criminal offence that, if convicted of, could result in two years in prison. The Home Secretary has argued that his orders allow the police to put social media and geographical injunctions on individuals which may help to break the cycle of gang and criminal behaviour, but others have argued this is not evidenced and risks criminalising children, thus pushing them further into a spiral of crime. 

To read more and view a 2-week lookahead of events and discussions that will cover knife crime, click here.