Youth safety: tackling knife crime means investing in safer neighbourhoods

Jul 13, 2021 | Articles

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Last month saw another tragic death in our community. My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Denardo Samuels-Brooks, the teenager fatally stabbed in Prentis Road. My thanks go to local emergency workers who dealt with the incident and the support services who are dealing with the aftermath. We cannot underestimate the trauma that knife crime inflicts on entire communities.

In the wake of the tragedy, I was chosen for a Prime Minister’s Question and called on Boris Johnson to
reverse his party’s 70 per cent cuts to youth budgets over the last decade. His response was a flat-out denial, claiming that his party had “invested in youth services”. If he genuinely believes that £1 billion of cuts is investment, I fear for our country.

In the same month, we had Tory MPs claiming that working class kids are being held back by schools teaching them about racism. This from a party that has closed more than 750 youth centres over the last decade, trebled tuition fees, cut school funding by nine per cent and abolished Educational Maintenance Allowance.

Instead of trying to create divisions within working-class communities to distract from these failings, wouldn’t it be more helpful if they just released the £500 million they pledged for youth services ahead of the last general election?

It’s important to acknowledge that knife crime is driven by a series of complex factors, many of which have deprivation and poverty at their root. We’ve seen a 50 per cent increase in knife crime since 2010, rising in step with austerity: youth funding cuts, the growth in zero-hours jobs, and police cuts.

The worrying violence we have seen so far this summer reflects a situation where the impact of the pandemic has fallen hardest on disadvantaged families in our area, increasing deprivation and stifling new job opportunities.

The most immediate things we need to look at include creating social outlets, improving mental health services and ensuring better job opportunities for young people. We also need to create a stronger culture of community policing, where policing is something that is done with people, not to them.

But we also need to acknowledge that the problems run deeper. In my experience, knife crime is impacted by everything from housing policy to employment and education. I welcome Lambeth Council’s Lambeth Made Safer strategy, headed up by Councillor Jacqui Dyer, which builds on successful strategies from elsewhere in the UK, to make our borough safer for young people. By resourcing local governments properly and adopting a holistic public health approach to violence, we can work effectively with the local community to make harm reduction the number one focus.

Knife crime

This article was first published in the 9th July edition of the South London Press and on the 13th July on the website.