Parliament’s Youth Select Committee: We must address the inequalities behind the UK’s knife crime epidemic
Young people are feeling afraid in their own communities, and many believe that carrying a knife is the only way to protect themselves, writes Rachel Ojo, Chair of the Youth Select Committee
Every year a new Youth Select Committee is formed, made up by young people from across the country. The Committee meets in the House of Commons to conduct an inquiry into an issue voted on by young people. In 2018, a UK-wide ballot of over a million young people aged 11-18 identified knife crime as their biggest concern. Last year, I was offered a life-changing opportunity to become the Chair of the UK Parliament’s Youth Select Committee as we launched an investigation into the rising rates of knife crime across the UK.
I did not expect to be working at the centre of our democracy while studying for my A Levels, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to give young people a voice, scrutinise the Government and hopefully make a real difference.
Barely a week goes by where knife crime does not feature in national headlines and it is clear that something must be done urgently to tackle the knife crime epidemic in our communities. Over 100,000 people signed a Parliamentary petition demanding a debate on knife crime, resulting in a House of Commons debate in March 2019. A House of Commons Library briefing found that knife crime has been a “persistent and growing concern”, particularly where it affects young people, for successive Governments.
“Young people are feeling afraid in their own communities, and many believe that carrying a knife is the only way to protect themselves”
Official figures published by the Department for Justice last month showed that there has been a 7 per cent increase in offences involving knives or sharp weapons, including stabbings, from July to September 2019 – a record high. The figures also highlighted that a fifth of these crimes were carried out by young people aged 10-17.
This week, members of the Youth Select Committee will be launching our report into the issue of knife crime in the UK. During our inquiry, we questioned Ministers, Members of Parliament and experts across many different fields to investigate what can be done to tackle knife crime and to understand the reasons behind young people turning to crime. We also heard from young people, charities and organisations who work directly with those affected.
During our inquiry, we found that young people are feeling afraid in their own communities, and that many believe that carrying a knife is the only way to protect themselves. To confront the causes of violent crime, more must be done to improve the difficult circumstances many young people are growing up in.
Our report will highlight that inequality within communities and the difference in opportunities provided across the country makes some young people particularly vulnerable to the draw of violence and gangs. Action to prevent knife crime must begin with a clear commitment to address the inequalities in our communities.
The Youth Select Committee matters now more than ever, particularly when it comes to issues like knife crime. The perspective of young people can often be overlooked or ignored, but the Youth Select Committee gives a voice to us – a voice empowered to take on the challenges young people face across the country, and an opportunity for that voice to be heard by the Government. We have a unique perspective which needs to be heard in forming policy on every important issue, although we still have a long way to go to engage more young people in politics. I hope that our report will show young people that their voices are important and of value, and that it will show the Government what can be done when young voices are included in formulating policy.
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