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We must do more to win the fight against knife crime

Catherine West

There is not one easy solution to the worrying escalation of violence we’ve seen on our streets in recent weeks. An appalling stabbing on the 134 bus towards Muswell Hill left one teenager hospitalised with serious injuries and another charged with attempted murder. At the other side of my constituency in Wood Green, 19-year-old Kamali Gabbidon-Lynck lost his life from knife and gun wounds – metres away from where my constituent Kelvin Odunyi died less than a year ago.

Knife crime is up by 11% in London and a staggering 44% in the Home Counties and our community is calling for more action to keep our streets and our children safe.

The Prime Minister may wish to pretend otherwise but policing and “bobbies on the beat” matters.  I’ve continually called on the Home Secretary to cancel further cuts to our stretched Police forces and provide the Met with long-term certainty of funding to recruit the officers London needs. The one-off money pledged by the Chancellor in the recent Spring Statement doesn’t do that and anyway is a drop in the ocean. Even if the entire fund was for London (which it isn’t), it would only replace 10% of the cuts the Met have had to deal with during the last nine years of austerity.

Policing is however only part of the picture. The causes of youth violence are complex, and the Government needs to recognise it as a public health crisis that requires a cross governmental urgent response. In Scotland, where that public health approach is now the norm, violent crime levels have plummeted.

One thing I’d like to see is a special fund for children at risk of school exclusion as a high percentage of perpetrators were excluded from school in their early teens. It’s something I raised with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently and I am pleased he has agreed to meet to discuss it further.

A fund that helped families who might be struggling and provided continuity of care and support to children at risk of exclusion could help beat the “PRU to prison pipeline” of disengaged young people in pupil referral units getting into a cycle of trouble. All too often excluded children bounce round the system whilst falling further away from mainstream education. Crucially, a fund should also include targeted support and training for school staff who are on the frontline of what can be incredibly difficult situations at the same time as they are seeing their funding slashed.

I’ve been a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime since it was first founded and we’ve met with offenders who’ve spoken about their experiences, from poverty to mental health, social media to their own safety fears. So many had experienced trauma in their own backgrounds, domestic violence or bereavement, with a high percentage struggling with school and special educational needs. Haringey’s own research on the 20 most prolific offenders found 65% were failing at school by age 10 with 11 being the average age of their first fixed or permanent exclusion.

I hope the Secretary of State listens when I meet him, because supporting these children, their families and schools is crucial in treating this epidemic – and cutting it off at source.

About Catherine West (25 Articles)
Labour Member of Parliament for Hornsey & Wood Green | Shadow Foreign Minister | Mum of two |