We must take a whole picture approach to stop the knife crime epidemic
There are number of reasons why young people fall into knife crime. It is vital to address all of them, writes Lord Paddick
Last weekend, the knife crime epidemic claimed even more lives. We must urgently stop its spread, and that means a thorough examination of its causes and the potential solutions.
There are those who rely on violence, such as gang members who want to intimidate or harm members of rival gangs or enforce discipline within their own gang. Others are drug dealers who need to enforce deals and protect territory from rival dealers because their trade is illegal and there is no other way to settle disputes.
Then there are those who feel that they need a knife to protect themselves from these people because they see no visible signs of authority on their streets. Even if they did see a uniformed presence, some doubt the police would be there to protect them – they feel over-policed and under-protected, so they believe they must protect themselves.
Many criminal gangs are involved in drug dealing but much of the violence is about ‘respect’: gang members being punished for being in another gang’s territory, battles to prove whose gang is the best. Through drill music and violent videos on YouTube, gangs compete to get the greatest number of hits or views. Some are genuine expressions of young people’s violent, lived experience, whilst others promote, celebrate and drive violence.
Although complex and controversial, the picture that emerges is of a parallel society for some young people where law and order are absent, where disputes and offences are settled amongst themselves and where status and reward are earned by violence and illegal activity.
'The picture that emerges is of a parallel society for some young people where law and order are absent'
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur during childhood that often lead to such behaviour. Domestic violence, parental abandonment through separation or divorce, physical or sexual abuse, neglect (either physical or emotional), having a parent in prison, or experiencing alcohol or drug misuse problems, are all causes. When parents or carers are in low-paid work and have to put in 18-hour days, six or seven days a week just to pay the bills and put food on the table, they cannot be there for their children as much as they want, or as much as their kids need. Violence can become normalised as a way of life and the need to belong – to feel loved and acknowledged – is not always met.
With the decimation of local authority youth services, and local youth charities that used to rely on local authorities for their core funding, positive alternatives to what family life should provide are diminishing, and criminals fill the void. An environment is created where vulnerable young people can be groomed and exploited, whether by paedophiles, terrorists or criminal gangs. Criminal gangs provide a sense of belonging that many young people seek, not realising the violent, exploitative nature of what they are getting into.
School exclusions do not help the situation. Disruptive behaviour is most likely to be caused by ACEs and the failure of the education system to engage pupils from every background. Excluding disruptive children just makes those problems worse. If you are not part of a school community, if you see no opportunity of academic or practical qualifications and legitimate, high-paid employment, the appeal of criminal gangs and drug dealing is even stronger.
We must address all of these issues if we are to tackle knife crime. A real living wage so parents can be there for their children. Funding for youth services that can provide a positive and healthy alternative to gangs. Identifying and healing the damage caused by ACEs. Compulsory sex and relationship education that teaches the violent, exploitative reality of criminal gangs and drug dealing. Inclusive education instead of exclusions. Restoring community policing and re-building trust and confidence between the police and communities, so they can identify who the knife carriers are and effectively focus stop and search activity on criminals rather than angering the law-abiding majority. All of this is vital to prevent more innocent lives from being lost.
Lord Paddick is a Lib Dem Peer, Home Affairs spokesperson in the Lords and an Officer of the APPG on Knife Crime. His debate takes place on Thursday 27 June.
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