Published 18 September 2019
This report from Crest presents a stark picture of rising homicide, knife crime, robbery and gun crime in England and Wales, with the most harmful forms of offending rising fastest and a tragic and deeply upsetting fast rise in the number of young people dying as a result. Even more worryingly, some trends - such as the 60 per cent rise in robbery in the UK since 2015 - are now going against the international grain.
The report therefore casts important new light on the multiple underlying and interacting problems behind the tragic rise of serious violence on our streets which saw 285 deaths from knife crime last year, the highest level since 1946, while there are already thought to have been more than 100 this year in London alone.
These problems include:
Under-funded and over-stretched public services, including a lack of children’s centres and neighbourhood policing, and prisons which are not dealing with cultures of violence and drug habits but often incubating them.
The extra challenge and confusion of dealing with a cohort of children who are both potential perpetrators and victims of serious violence.
The challenge for public services and opportunities for criminals presented by new technologies such as social media.
The underestimated and deprioritised impact of drug markets sitting behind serious violence.
And the scale of the underlying criminality and social problems hidden underneath the visible problem of serious violence; including poverty, homelessness, domestic violence and school exclusions, creating a huge cohort of people vulnerable to exploitation offences, which have risen a shocking 380% since 2015.
All of these are known vulnerability factors towards being involved in serious violence but none alone present a cure-all solution. Only a comprehensive strategy will begin to get close.
But for all that there is cause for despair, there is also some cause for hope if we can get our response right. The Crest estimate of up to 269,000 children at risk of being involved in serious violence is worryingly high. But it is also still a manageable number that should not be beyond the reach of well-funded and well-organised services. It is still small enough that we can work out which are the exact families that they come from and make sure we have services that are reaching them - and we must not be squeamish about that.
Similarly, the report highlights how serious violence is concentrated in geographically small areas. This is troubling for those that live in them and risks creating a divide between violence-ridden communities and the rest of the country. But the problem is also an opportunity in that social demographic factors can lead us to them and allow for effective preventative and enforcement approaches to be forensically targeted on the areas that need them most.
It is this combination of investment, prevention, enforcement and targeting that will be key to responding to the challenge presented in the report of victims and perpetrators of violence not just being drawn from the same social groups but often being the same people themselves. So an effective ‘public health’ approach to tackling knife crime and the rise in robbery needs to address all of these challenges in a strategic and joined-up way.
That will mean increased spending on safeguarding services, as well as smarter and better-resourced enforcement agencies that properly tackle the drug markets and deeper criminality we don’t see that sits underneath so much of the violence that we do. A strategic and joined-up approach also needs leadership and grip from the top of government that goes across the many different public services and social problems that serious violence affects and is affected by. Then there needs to be trust in local government as the right point to coordinate those services at a local level. Getting that combination of central strategy and local delivery right is never easy, but is essential to any success here.
And without such a joined-up, well-resourced and strategic approach we risk failing to stem the tide of violence that is bringing misery and fear to too many communities and cutting far too many young lives short.