The mayor of London is to say that serious youth violence, such as stabbings and shootings, is strongly connected to social exclusion and austerity, and that he has the extensive research to show the link.
Sadiq Khan will say on Monday that deprivation, poor mental health, school exclusions and poverty, exacerbated by the Conservatives’ austerity spending cuts, are helping to drive a rise of 71% in violent incidents between 2012-13 and 2017-18.
The mayor is expected to say at an event in south London: “The truth is if we allow children to be brought up in deprived conditions as a country, if we accept high rates of school exclusions, if we fail to tackle domestic and sexual violence, if we leave people in bad housing with a lack of employment and training opportunities, and if we decimate the very public services designed to support those most in need – as this government has systematically done – then crime is quite simply much more likely to flourish.”
Among the statistics he relies upon are that every borough worst hit by violent youth offending had more children living in poverty than the average for London. Three-quarters of the boroughs in London with the highest levels of violent offending are also in the top 10 most deprived, and a quarter of all young Londoners live in the most deprived areas of the capital. The peak days for violence were Saturday and the early hours of Sunday morning.
London’s Violence Reduction Unit conducted the research and the statistics are claimed to be the most detailed study of the causes of violent crime in the capital. Khan believes they show the need for a long-term public health approach, as well as strong enforcement in the short term.
What is the scale of the problem?
Police chiefs have described the recent spate of knife crime as ‘a national emergency’. In the first two months of 2019 there were 17 homicides in London alone, where 35% of all knife crimes are committed.
The number of NHS England admissions among people aged 10-19 with knife wounds has risen 60% in five years, surpassing 1,000 last year.
The number of knife and offensive weapon offences in England and Wales have risen to their highest level for nearly a decade, with the number of cases dealt with by the criminal justice system up by more than a third since 2015.
Figures on sentences handed out for such crimes, published by the Ministry of Justice, showed there were 22,041 knife and weapon offences formally dealt with by the criminal justice system in the year ending March 2019. This is the highest rate since 2010, when the number was 23,667.
What happens to people caught with knives?
In the year ending March 2019, 37% of knife and offensive weapon offences resulted in an immediate custodial sentence, compared with 22% in 2009, when the data was first published. The average length of the custodial sentences rose to the longest in a decade, from 5.5 months to 8.1 months.
Are younger people more at risk of being involved in knife crime?
The MoJ figures revealed that the number of juvenile offenders convicted or cautioned for possession or threats using a knife or offensive weapon increased by almost half (48%) between the year ending March 2015 and the year ending March 2019.
The increase in adult offenders over the same period was smaller, at 31%. However, adult offenders still accounted for 74% of the total increase in cautions and convictions received for those offences in that period.
What are the government doing about knife crime?
In March 2019 chancellor, Philip Hammond, handed an extra £100m to police forces in England and Wales after a spate of fatal stabbings led to a renewed focus on rising knife crime and police resources.
In the same month more than 10,000 knives were seized and 1,372 suspects arrested during a week-long national knife crime crackdown. Officers carried out 3,771 weapons searches, during which 342 knives were found. Another 10,215 were handed in as part of amnesties.
A new Offensive Weapons Act was passed in May 2019, making it illegal to possess dangerous weapons including knuckledusters, zombie knives and death star knives. It also made it a criminal offence to dispatch bladed products sold online without verifying the buyer is over 18.
Both main parties agree on the public health approach but Khan will say Tory austerity policies since 2010 boosted offending. “The sad reality is the violence we’re seeing on our streets today is an appalling side-effect of increasing inequality and alienation caused by years of government austerity and neglect,” he will say.
“The lesson we must all learn is that you can’t cut police officers, public services, preventative measures and ignore the most vulnerable people in our country at the same time as keeping crime low. These things are fundamentally incompatible.”
Some have blamed Khan for doing too little to combat rising violence, with one-third of all knife offences in England and Wales taking place in London, according to the Office for National Statistics. He has been attacked by Donald Trump, as well as the Conservatives.
Next year Khan will run for re-election. So far the capital’s homicide rate and serious youth violence is marginally down in 2019, though public concern and attention on crime remains high.
Linking violent criminal behaviour to poverty and social exclusion is risky for a politician, but the mayor will seek to head off criticism that he is excusing offending. “There’s never any excuse for criminality,” he will say. “Those who commit crimes must pay for their actions. But we have to face the reality that for some young people growing up today, violence has become normalised.
“And – with hope at rock bottom, inequality higher than ever and an absence of positive opportunities – turning to crime and gangs has become an all too easy route to satisfy the lure of gaining respect and money – however misguided this is.”
He will broadly back stop-and-search, which under his administration last year saw more African-Caribbean people stopped than white people, the vast majority of whom were found to have nothing on them warranting further investigation. Police say the racial mix of people stopped matches that of offenders and helps takes weapons off the streets. Khan will say: “I’ll continue to defend the tactics they’re successfully using to drive down violence, including targeted stop-and-search.”
The research shows that serious youth violence victims recorded by police rose by 71% from 2012-13 to 2017-18, but fell by 4% in 2018-19.
For the victims aged 10 to 16, attacks were linked to school finishing times, whereas for the victims aged 18 to 24, violence happened later and reflected the night-time economy.
Measures Khan will announce include increased after-school provision in high-crime areas, action to lessen school exclusions, and support for vulnerable parents who have suffered abuse or domestic violence.