‘National emergency’ of youth violence exacerbated by Tory budget cuts, MPs find

Boris Johnson told to ‘get a grip’ as report suggests increasing police numbers will not address causes of violence

Police and forensics officers at the scene of a stabbing in east London last month
Police and forensics officers at the scene of a stabbing in east London last month

Youth violence has become a “national emergency” exacerbated by budget cuts to police and juvenile services, a parliamentary report has found.

The Home Affairs Committee has called for the government to “get a grip” on the crisis in the wake of a string of murders seeing teenagers stabbed and shot in the streets.

A damning report suggested that Boris Johnson’s pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers would not undo the damage caused by a “perfect storm” of austerity, school exclusions and protection failings.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the committee, said: “Teenagers are dying on our streets, and yet our inquiry has found that the government’s response to the rise in serious youth violence is completely inadequate.

“They just haven’t risen to the scale of the problem. The rhetoric about a public health approach is right, but too often that’s all it is.”

The report said that homicides have increased by more than a third in the last five years across England and Wales, with fatal stabbings up 31 per cent, while overall knife offences have risen by over 70 per cent.

It said knife murders had fallen significantly between 2008 and 2013 but then started rising again, with the number of under-18s admitted to hospital with stab wounds up a third in five years.

Attacks peak in the two hours after school ends, the committee heard, with a London trauma surgeon saying: “We routinely have children under our care – 13, 14, 15-year-olds are daily occurrences … whereas a young boy being stabbed five or six years ago was a horror story, now it’s normal.”

The committee called for all schools in areas affected by serious youth violence to have a "dedicated school police officer" by April 2020.

London – where almost half of fatal stabbing and shooting victims are now aged between 15 and 24 – has been most affected by the rise in serious youth violence, followed by Manchester, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands.

“The current epidemic has been exacerbated by a perfect storm emerging from cuts to youth services, heavily reduced police budgets, a growing number of children being excluded from school and taken into care, and a failure of statutory agencies to keep young people safe from exploitation and violence,” the report concluded.

The Home Affairs Committee called for the government to “make available substantial additional resources for policing” and support efforts to increase young people’s confidence in officers.

Government funding to police forces was cut by 30 per cent between 2010–11 and 2018-19 in real terms, the report said, and much of last year’s uplift was dependent on an increase in council tax.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said police had been left to “pick up the pieces” of other damaged services.

“Policing alone cannot solve this problem,” said chair John Apter. “There must be significant investment across the public sector to ensure that everything is being done to end this shameful epidemic.”

The report found the government’s “weak” Serious Violence Strategy was not backed up by targets or mechanisms to drive change and accused the Home Office of taking a “hands-off approach to the crisis”.

Cressida Dick contradicts Theresa May over police cuts

“It is a national emergency and must be treated like one,” Ms Cooper said.

“Young lives can and must be saved, but the government and prime minister must make it a priority to reduce serious youth violence and get a grip on this crisis immediately.”

The committee called for greater efforts to tackle the root causes of violence by intervening earlier in young people’s lives to prevent them from being exploited by criminals.

It said a key driver of stabbings was the rise of “county lines” gangs, who use children to transport drugs and cash between urban hubs and regional target markets.

The inquiry found that victims of the brutal trade had been let down by safeguarding systems with an outdated focus on risks inside the home, and called for the treatment of drug users to be improved to reduce demand.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said many of the mistakes that led to the rise of sexual grooming gangs were being repeated.

“They will require significant funding to turn around,” she said, warning that it will “require more than summits and meetings” to turn the tide.

“Too many families and communities are being wrecked and too many childhoods broken by the scourge of gangs and criminal exploitation.”

Witnesses who gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee cited the closure of youth centres and other safe spaces as a major issue, after cuts left services “small-scale and fragmented”.

Police forensics on Latchmere Road in Battersea, southwest London, following a stabbing

MPs called for the government to create a new Youth Service Guarantee, which would make provision a legal requirement backed by ring-fenced funding.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said that councils were forced to halve spending on local youth services, from £652m in 2010-11 to £352m in 2017-18, as a result of government cuts.

Government funding for Youth Offending Teams halved in the same period and public health grants from were reduced by £700m in real terms over four years, according to LGA figures.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said forces had increased targetted patrols, stop and search and efforts to disrupt county lines gangs.

“A number of forces were recently given additional funding to tackle violence and the plan to increase officer numbers by 20,000 is very welcome,” said assistant chief constable Jackie Sebire.

“This will help police forces strengthen our immediate and long-term response to knife crime and serious violence.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the committee “failed to recognise the full range of urgent action” the government was taking.

“The prime minister and home secretary last week announced the recruitment of 20,000 more officers and a new national policing board, which will meet for the first time today to drive the response to critical issues including serious violence,” a statement added.

“Police funding is increasing by more than £1bn this year, including council tax and £100m for forces worst affected by violent crime.

“We have made it simpler for officers to use stop and search, and our Offensive Weapons Act will stop knives making their way onto our streets in the first place.”

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