The government must listen to young people on the best ways to tackle knife crime
Artist Alfie Bradley's Knife Angel, dedicated to victims of knife crime, stands outside Coventry Cathedral | Alamy
Back in 2019, the Youth Select Committee gathered evidence for our inquiry, 'Our Generation’s Epidemic: Knife Crime', following a UK-wide ballot of more than a million young people aged 11 to 18.
As knife crime was declared the biggest concern amongst people in this age bracket, this became the subject of our investigation, with our report being published in February last year with clear recommendations for the government. Just a few weeks ago, 16 months after the committee first put the report to the government, we finally received an official response from the Home Office.
I was very privileged to have chaired the committee throughout the investigation and was incredibly proud of the report we produced. The Youth Select Committee is a joint initiative between the British Youth Council and Parliament and gives young people from across the country the opportunity to scrutinise and hold inquiries into topics of importance to them – our role in the democratic engagement of young voices is vital.
Our investigation heard from a range of expert witnesses including Home Office minister Victoria Atkins MP, former Metropolitan Police Superintendent Leroy Logan as well as other leaders from the worlds of business, politics and the charity sector. The resulting report was highly detailed, totalling more than 60 pages.
Support is needed before young people get involved in crime – not just once it has happened
While we were glad to see some commitments from the government in their eventual response, like financial investment in early intervention programmes and an agreement to work with young people and those with lived experience of knife crime, it was disappointing to see other recommendations ignored, such as rolling back stop and search powers until the disproportionate targeting of black men has been addressed.
It was also particularly concerning to see the government make reference to the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the response, which is expected to return to the Commons next week. It is the committee’s view that this bill only works to extend punitive measures, when instead the government should be doing more to enshrine preventative measures into law. Tackling knife crime requires early intervention. Support is needed before young people get involved in crime – not just once it has happened.
Despite promises made by the government, it is clearer than ever that knife crime remains a massive problem facing young people. Just two weeks ago, statistics from the Metropolitan Police showed that teenage killings were at an all-time high in London since 2008, with 17 lives being lost so far in 2021. This is devastating. These figures demonstrate the stark consequences that ineffective policies and a lack of action have had on young people and their families.
Alongside my fellow committee members, who include Members of the UK Youth Parliament, Youth Councillors and representatives from each of the devolved nations, I strongly encourage the government to act on the commitments made in their response. They must ensure that tackling knife crime is not only top of their agenda but that it is preventative measures that are at the forefront of this fight. Investment is required in youth services; exclusions from school should be a last resort; and the vast inequalities and lack of opportunities in some communities need to be addressed.
The release of the government response brings this Youth Select Committee cycle to a close. Chairing the committee has been an incredible, life changing experience and I hope that we have not only managed to highlight how pressing the issue of knife crime is, but that we have offered tangible and relevant policy solutions that will have a positive impact on the lives of young people across the country.
Rachel Ojo is the former chair of the Youth Select Committee and co-author of the Committee’s report 'Our Generation’s Epidemic: Knife Crime'
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