Cuts to community services have left the youth vulnerable to peer pressure and gang violence. The rate of knife crime continues to increase and parts of London are in a state of emergency.
Reoffending figures remain high. Ministry of Justice figures reveal that in 2017 there were 4,439 knife crimes in which the perpetrator was aged between 10 and 17 - up from 3,811 in 2016.
Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police, has acknowledged that it is time to treat knife crime as a public health crisis. Indeed, she recently travelled to Glasgow to meet those involved In Scotland's violence reduction unit, in the hope of gaining insight into how their methods could be used to tackle London's knife crime.
However, in reading this I was left rather confused. We're now in 2018 and the crime rates are worse than ever. They have been increasing rapidly since 2014, so why has it taken Dick and her colleagues this long to recognise it as a public health crisis? Now that we're at the point of fear and desperation actions are being taken. It seems a bit odd that these trips to Scotland were not thought of before.
After introducing this topic in a school in London, I was able to get students' responses on the issue of youth violence and crime. A few responded with similar answers. From, "I never knew it was that bad, I live in quite a good and quiet area and rarely read the news," to more encouraging comments "I hope to do something about it, I'm not sure what but something can be done".
Sean, a sixteen-year-old student, stated that he felt he could no longer be safe in his neighborhood. What concerned me the most with this response is that for a long time we haven't felt safe, but for a long time the issue has been ignored.
Behind the scenes the government continues to detach itself from youth centres and clubs, leaving many children vulnerable to peer pressure and gangs. The implications of not providing a safe foundation for children can lead them to find a 'family' elsewhere. Often, you may see a large group of children congregating around bus stops, parks and stations. This is not because these are cool spots to hang out, but because they simply have nowhere else to go.
Despite the positive and inspiring changes that youth centres and clubs make, others feel that bringing these back will not help. One tweet stated that "The knife crime in London is alarming but I really don't think youth clubs and centers will solve anything this generation won't be attending no afterschool club [sic]".
There is some truth in this. I agree to an extent that youth clubs will not magically reduce the crime figures. But they will give the younger generation a foundation, hope and support.
It should also be taken into consideration that young people who need help will not automatically make use of youth services. There are many who are too deep into crime and are afraid to leave. More needs to be done everywhere - depending on youth clubs will not solve the problem. Things need to be changed in schools, and society more generally has a role to play in ensuring that children are safe. Below are a few possible solutions.
· Providing metal detectors and security checks will help prevent knives and weapons being brought into school, but they will simply move youth violence as people will take things outside or around the corner. Placing more CCTV cameras in all corners/areas of the school and community even in alley ways can prevent people from having easy access to more private areas.
· Educating students. We teach children about bullying, but not about the implications of being in gangs, or carrying knifes. Perhaps taking them on trips to youth centres to talk to former offenders could be a step forward in this direction.
· More plain-clothes police officers. Recently, in Romford, I saw a large number of policemen standing about. I'm not sure what effect they thought this was having, but dressing in uniform and standing there is not going to help prevent crime, all it will do is prevent it from happening at that time in that area.
· Recognise the 'systematic problems' that undermine communities. We need to realise that these children, before they become offenders, become victims - victims of bullying, loneliness, discrimination and even abuse. Every child should be given a counsellor. No one is born criminal. There is always a driving force, and sometimes loneliness or repression of emotion leads you down the wrong path and to the wrong people.