15 March 2019
This week, amid all the drama of the Brexit votes, the Government also presented its Spring Statement. As well as downgrading the forecasts for economic growth to 1.2%, the weakest growth rate since 2009, the Chancellor announced that an extra £100m will be made available to police forces in England and Wales next year to pay for “additional overtime targeted specifically on knife crime”.
While any extra funding to tackle knife crime is to be welcomed, the amount on offer, and the fact that it is not accompanied by any serious pledge to grow frontline policing numbers, shows that the Government has not grasped the scale and urgency of the problem.
As I am sure readers will be aware, we have seen a sharp rise in knife crime across the country. According to the data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales and the police, the number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales has risen to its highest level since records began over 70 years ago. Between March 2017 and March 2018, 285 homicides were carried out with a knife or other sharp instrument. This represents the fourth consecutive annual rise in homicides following a long period of decline.
The rise in knife crime is a serious blight on our communities. Young people’s lives are being cut tragically short, and I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of victims. It also affects our hospitals, which are treating a growing number of young people for knife wounds.
Also on the frontline in tackling knife crime is our dedicated, but overstretched, neighbourhood police teams. A recent report from the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (published in October) shows that here in the Thames Valley, neighbourhood policing has been cut by 26% since 2010, with Thames Valley Police losing a quarter of its neighbourhood officers and over a quarter (27%) of its PCSOs. The report also found that, in one year, TVP handled 8,392 mental health crisis calls.
As the work of the police in our communities widens, and police numbers decrease, I fear that the social factors driving knife crime will be left unexplored without a long-term commitment from the Government to addressing them. This announcement seems to be the latest in a series of sticking plasters, which won’t get to the root of why so many young people are carrying knives in the first place.
I recently met with public health representatives to discuss the £188k Home Office award that has been granted to the Thames Valley to help to provide training for schools to tackle youth violence. While this is vital work, it is deeply frustrating that the Government’s approach to services for young people seems to consist of offering piecemeal, one-off pots of money without any guarantees that these schemes can continue in the long term. The fact that different areas of the country are having to compete for these limited funding schemes, leaving us with a postcode lottery of provision, is appalling.
This week’s announcement shows that, regrettably, the Government is failing to recognise the complexity of the work that will be needed to address the causes of knife crime, including drug exploitation and county lines networks, social and emotional health issues, school exclusions, and, let’s not forget, poverty. I will continue to champion a strategic cross-agency approach to tackling youth violence, one which supports young people to live positive, healthy and meaningful lives.