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Community policing and trust takes investment of both time and money, which are two things that our police forces have been starved of.
Humza Hussain from Luton was just 16 years old. He was killed outside a school. He was stabbed by another young person. He had his whole life ahead of him.
Over the last few weeks, people across Luton have been shaken by these events. I know many people in my town rallied around Humza’s parents when they received the worst news a parent can possibly receive.
This week, driven by the need to work with whoever it takes to end this situation where our young people are carrying knives, I secured an urgent debate in Parliament to bring together MPs of all parties to demand answers from government on how it plans to stop our young people feeling like they have to pick up a knife.
We’ve seen a rapid rise in knife related crime over the last few years across the country. Figures from the Commons Library reveal that in my region of Bedfordshire, in 2010, there were 397 offences involving a knife in Bedfordshire. By last year, that number had climbed to 530. This is an increase of over a third.
This is against a backdrop of 11 years of central government gutting funding for our councils and forcing what few youth services we have left to operate on a skeleton budget or closing them all together. Moreover, we’ve seen police officers in Luton – one of the biggest towns in the country by population that doesn’t have city status – having to operate with the budget of a rural police force.
Without a comprehensive plan to tackle violent crime, the government risks allowing this form of exploitation to grow even stronger roots
There’s no single cause of this rise in knife offences. However, it’s hard not to notice that kids who had their services closed and gutted ten years ago, are now the young adults left without aspiration and hope for the future so who are falling into crime and being exploited by criminals. This is a perfect storm of years of austerity and deprivation allowing crime to thrive while robbing children of the bright futures they deserve.
Figures from Barnardos show that over a fifth of offences involving a knife involve somebody under 18. Last July, a quarter of Barnardo’s frontline workers said they had supported a young person they thought was being coerced, deceived or manipulated into criminal activity. 15% said they thought the first lockdown led to more children and young people getting involved in serious violence and exploitation. This is an urgent safeguarding issue which requires a long term solution – short term, reactionary funding for short term projects are not going to solve a problem that needs a strategy that looks in generations not just months.
Young people put on a path at an early age where they might have experienced the trauma of early family violence or neglect. All without the youth services or a safety net to help them break out of that cycle. Public Health Wales research revealed that adults who experienced adversity like this in early life are 14 and 15 times more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of violence than those who did not.
Over the last decade, spending on youth services, which could be line of defence in solving these issues, has been slashed by government. An FOI request by the APPG on Knife Crime and Violence Reduction found that local authority funding for youth services was reduced by 40% in real terms between 2014/15 and 2017/18.
This is all in addition to the mistrust of Police that Stop and Search fosters amongst Black and Minority Ethnic people across the country. In Bedfordshire, official figures show that if you’re Black, you’re three times more likely to be stopped. Many young people in Luton are scared and often don’t have trust in authorities or the rest of society to protect them.
We’ve seen how a style of policing that breeds mistrust, is compounded by overstretched forces after being held back by cuts for 11 years, rather than policing that works with communities to prevent crime has failed to stop the 33% increase in knife offences. Community policing and trust takes investment of both time and money, which are two things that our police forces have been starved of.
I again repeat the call for police force to be funded to city levels and not as a rural area. For all the hard work of Bedfordshire Police in getting another knife and gun taken off the streets by Operation Bosen, there will just be more, unless the cycle is ended.
To end the cycle of deprivation, exploitation and crime, we need support and political will from government to make it happen.
Without a big, comprehensive plan to tackle this wide-ranging issue, the government risks just tinkering around the edges and allowing this form of exploitation to grow even stronger roots.
This can’t go on. No parent deserves to be on the other end of that phone call hearing their child has been killed. No other child deserves to have their life ended before their time. It is time for action and it is time for hope.
Sarah Owen is the Labour MP for Luton North.
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