Teachers, nurses and police officers could be held accountable for failing to “spot warning signs” of violent crime among young people, under new government plans.
Home secretary Sajid Javid has floated the idea of a so-called “public health duty” in an effort to ensure “every part of the system works together to support young people”.
The government said it is intended to help spot the warning signs that a young person could be in danger, “such as presenting in A&E with a suspicious injury, to worrying behaviour at school or issues at home”.
A consultation announced on Monday will assess the extent to which those on the front line will be held to account for failing to prevent a young person getting involved in violence, the Home Office said.
It comes a day after Mr Javid granted police new powers to increase stop and search activity following a spate of bloodshed across London and the rest of England since the start of 2019.
Mr Javid said: “Violent crime is like a disease rotting our society and it’s essential that all public bodies work together to treat the root causes.
“The public health, multi-agency approach has a proven track record and I’m confident that making it a legal duty will help stop this senseless violence and create long-term change.
“I’m committed to ending this scourge and will use all the tools at my disposal to do so.”
More than 100 experts will meet this week to explore the scope and impact of new ideas while kick-starting a further programme of action.
They include Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, Patrick Green from the Ben Kinsella Trust and Baroness Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, whose husband Garry was beaten to death by a gang vandalising his car in 2007.
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Theresa May, who will host a serious youth violence summit in Downing Street on Monday, will also meet privately with the families of a number of victims of knife crime to listen to their first-hand experiences of this issue.
The prime minister said: “To bring about lasting change and protect young people from the tragic violence we have seen on our streets, we need to work across society to intervene early and stop them from being drawn into crime.
“Strong law enforcement plays an important role, and the police will continue to have our support on the front line, but we all need to look at what we can do in our communities, and in every part of the system, to safeguard young people.
“That is why our plans to introduce a whole community – or ‘public health’ – approach are designed to identify more young people at risk.”
Writing in the Daily Mail on Monday, Mrs May and Mr Javid added: “Of course, nothing we say or do this week will bring back the children who were so cruelly taken from them.
“But we can promise that we will do whatever it takes to confront and defeat the scourge of youth violence. And that we will do everything in our power to stop more families suffering as they have suffered.”
The consultation, mooted by Mr Javid in the Commons four weeks ago, will open on Monday until May 28 to the public and professionals across the UK.
It follows days of violence across the country, including a slew of serious stabbings in Edmonton, north London, from Saturday night into Sunday morning, as well as the death of a 40-year-old motorist at the wheel of his vehicle in Clapham, south-west London, and a 29-year-old fatally stabbed on Thursday afternoon in Toxteth, Liverpool.
Mrs May came under fire last month after she suggested that police cuts were not to blame for a spate of fatal stabbings on teenagers.
Senior figures in policing were at odds with her as they called for a reverse to slashes in staffing levels.
On Monday, Mike Cunningham, chief executive of the College of Policing, welcomed recent announcements on extra measures and funding, but warned against the assumption that “with more resources, policing alone can solve this problem”.
“If partners across health, education and local government play their part, we can make a real difference and help prevent more tragic deaths,” he told Sky News.
However, Royal College of Nursing acting chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said the move could put greater pressure on frontline staff.
She said: “With almost 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone, nurses are already concerned about providing safe and effective care with such widespread staff shortages.
“Nursing staff already have a key role in safeguarding patients, whether that’s working in the community, in schools or in hospitals and it’s unclear how putting a further obligation on our members, already working incredibly hard to do all they can for patients, will prevent violent crime.”
Javed Khan, boss of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said the Downing Street summit “must look at long-term solutions” and commit public funding to tackle violence.
He said: “We need a concerted effort to tackle the profound ‘poverty of hope’ amongst vulnerable children and young people who see little or no chance of a positive future.”