[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity of the debate today, which I secured for two reasons. First, given that the riots of 2011 were so dramatic and one of the most momentous events in modern British history, justifying the recall of Parliament, it strikes me as somewhat extraordinary that we have not found an opportunity in the 15 months since to discuss them, their aftermath and what actions can and should be taken to ensure that such violence is not repeated. The Government gangs strategy was released in November last year, so we are at its anniversary, and the Government have reviewed progress, but we have not had an opportunity to discuss the events, certainly in Government time. I find that extraordinary, and I am grateful for the attendance of hon. Friends who represent boroughs affected by the riots for the most part, or by serious gang and youth violence, to talk about some of the effects on their communities.
Secondly, for a related reason, I very much want the opportunity to stress to the Minister, in the hope of reassurance, that the modest amount of money that has been invested in tackling gangs and serious youth violence over the past year, whether through the Home Office or the Mayor’s office, should continue beyond March next year at its present level at least. I will refer to that as I move on in my contribution.
Gangs and serious youth violence have been a feature of our cities for far too long. They are distinct but overlapping phenomena with similar roots. As I am sure colleagues will mention in their contributions, certain elements of the 2011 riots were specific to the time and place in which they occurred but, in general, the factors driving the gang and serious youth violence of recent years, which exploded into the riots, have the same stem. If we are to understand what happened and, ideally, to prevent and bear down on such phenomena in future, we need to understand both of them.
Acres of debate have been generated in the media and academia since the 2011 riots, which is one reason why not having the opportunity to discuss such findings to any extent in Parliament has been unfortunate. So much of the media coverage, however, was extremely unhelpful to our understanding. A lot of the reporting was wrapped up in language that betrayed the worst stereotypes, with talk of “feral youth” or “the underclass”, and reinforced a powerful sense of “the other”, a modern enemy within in our society. That distracts us from understanding the causes of such behaviour.
I was struck by some of the media commentary on the trials and convictions of 18 young people involved in the death of Sofyen Belamouadden at Victoria station in 2010, which casts a different light on some of our analysis of the problem. I met the principal of the college concerned a fortnight ago to discuss some of the issues. Paul O’Shea, that inspirational principal of St Charles sixth-form college, which was attended by almost all those involved in the murder, described his experience thus:
“All but two of the 18 were four-A-level kids. We had nothing in our files to suggest they could behave like this. Their attendance rates were high, and one of the boys had that very morning been given two achievement certificates.”
The idea that we can happily stereotype all young people involved in gang or serious youth violence, or indeed in the riots, as members of a feral underclass is demolished by that very experience, which requires us to think more carefully. As the Centre for Social Justice report was labelled, it is “Time to Wake Up”.
We have to accept that such issues are complex and multifaceted, with emotional, cultural, economic and social causes. We have to grapple with ancient impulses. The behaviour of teenage boys in particular has caused grief to adults for 2,000 years, although now we have to deal with some of the new tools that create new means by which behaviour can be channelled through very rapid communication. As I describe it to myself, the space-time between impulse and action is completely eradicated, which has important implications. What happens through the use of the BlackBerry Messenger service, YouTube or social media has fundamentally changed not how behaviour is expressed but how it can be organised and how young people organise themselves.
My hon. Friend is talking about some of the new technology that can lead to the fast propagation of some of the behaviours associated with serious youth violence. Does she agree that the issue is not only about the speed with which such behaviour can be spread, but about the material online that can escalate and foment a situation, leading to greater problems of retaliation between different gangs or competing groups involved in serious youth violence?
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate of our better understanding of social media and how they can interact with long-standing patterns of behaviour and yet change that behaviour, increasing the ability of groups to taunt and confront each other through the posting of gang videos. She is absolutely right.
From all the analyses from across the political spectrum, left and right, from politicians, the media, think-tanks and academia we have a whole range of different contributory factors. Family breakdown, unemployment, the absence of effective role models—in particular for young men—poor relationships between young people and the police, the role of social media, excessive consumerism and poverty have all been analysed and put into the mix. We have yet, however, to translate our understanding of all such different factors into a comprehensive strategy for responding to the violence that has plagued our streets generally and to ensure that there is no repetition of the terrible events of 2011. Are we doing enough to translate our understanding of the causes of such behaviour into a specific understanding of, for example, where flashpoints can occur, postcodes, the role of social media or how adult criminals are directing the behaviour of younger members of the gangs? Such adults are sometimes directing from inside prison or even from outside the country. Young people involved in gang behaviour often say that they are dealt with by the police—quite rightly—but adult serious criminal behaviour is often behind the drug dealing or other criminal activity underpinning some gang behaviour, and those adults are not gone after or challenged. Work is being done in all those respects but I can fairly say that it is patchy, inconsistent and simply not good enough to insure against a repetition of the events of 2011.
In London, the number of people who died on our streets as a result of gang and serious youth violence peaked in 2008. It would be extremely unwise, however, for any of us to feel that that might have been a high-water mark for gang and serious youth violence, because it clearly was not. Serious youth violence was surging in 2011, up to and after the riots, and that would have been a more important element of media commentary had the riots not, understandably, distracted so much of our attention. We are only just beginning to appreciate the role of serious sexual violence, and the way in which girls are being drawn into the gang structure and abused.
It is estimated that around 250 gangs are operating in London alone, and that around 88% are involved in violence. Some 18% of individuals in gangs are linked to drug supply, 20% to stabbings, 50% to shootings and 14% to rapes. The Minister may say that we are calling for additional public spending to respond to some of the challenges, but the reverse is true. I want less to be spent on the consequences of that serious criminal activity, and on holding young people in youth offending institutions and prisons. A place in a youth offending institution sometimes costs £60,000 of public money a year. If only a fraction of that could be invested in prevention strategies, we would make a contribution to tackling the deficit as well as criminal behaviour.
When gang violence leads, as it has done, to serious concern about flashpoints in Pimlico, Parliament should regard that as a wake-up call. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) in his place, and he may make a contribution. That was a powerful wake-up call for people on Westminster city council because Pimlico is not the sort of place normally associated with the gang culture.
When a Westminster head teacher tells me that
“Hearing gun shots from my office yesterday really brought home to me how close we are to yet another tragedy”,
that should be a wake-up call. When a busy Oxford street store is the scene of a confrontation ending in a teenager’s murder, as happened last Christmas, we are reminded that gang violence cannot be swept out of sight and consigned to the usual suspect areas, such as Tottenham, Hackney and Lambeth. It can explode into everyone’s consciousness.
Given that background, we might have expected the problem to continue in summer 2012, perhaps with a repeat of the riots, and certainly a continuation of that surging youth violence that we saw throughout 2010 and 2011, but the picture is much more complicated. There has been a significant fall in serious youth violence locally in Westminster and across the Metropolitan police area with falls of nearly one third in knife injuries and 21% in gun-related incidents. The number of young people arrested has also fallen, gratifyingly, in recent times. But that makes my case more, not less pressing. If recent months are not to turn out to be an aberration, we must understand what contributory factors bore down on that youth violence, and how we can continue them.
We are definitely seeing the benefits of gang initiatives in my constituency and Met-wide, supported by some outstanding individuals and organisations which are delivering results with better information sharing, such as through the Gang Multi-Agency Partnership—the GMAP process, which monitors individual and gang activity—gang mediation and intensive family support.
I pay tribute to some of those involved in that work, because they do not receive sufficient recognition. They include Matt Watson, who runs Westminster’s gangs unit, and his team; the outgoing Commander Bray in Westminster, under whose watch a police gangs unit was set up and maintained despite all the other pressures on local policing; front-line gang workers, such as Twilight Bey and the Pathways to Progress team; Manni Ibrahim and the youth workers at clubs such as the Avenues, Paddington Boys, the Feathers and others, who have had to deal with the realities of gang violence on the front line; schools and colleges that have worked together; parent and family groups, such as the Tell It Like It Is campaign and Generation to Generation; and individuals who are doing creative work trying to tackle youth unemployment, such as Circle Sports.
It would be good to describe that as an infrastructure, but it would be unreasonable because, important as that work is, and invaluable as those individuals are, it is held together by gossamer threads. We simply do not know how much of the fall in serious youth crime in the last few months is due to the combination of statutory and community activity, and how much is due to other factors. That is an important challenge for Ministers. We may simply be seeing a lull in violence in the aftermath of the riots, when so many people were convicted and imprisoned and the shock waves went to communities in cities up and down the country.
The Centre for Social Justice report warned that the arrest strategy of recent months has weakened the leadership of some of the more responsible elders in gangs and created a greater risk of a more anarchic gang structure growing up in its wake. I do not know whether that will happen, but nor does anyone else, and that is part of the problem. What I do know is that we cannot afford to relax our grip for one moment. There is no evidence that the tide has turned, and in many respects, the underlying conditions for some of that behaviour are worsening because of factors such as the disproportionate cut suffered by the youth services as local government has been squeezed, and the pressure on family poverty and homelessness.
I was struck by a report that was published today by the Human City Institute. It says that social tenants have lost 10% of their purchasing power over the last couple of years—a total of £3 billion. Grainia Long of the Chartered Institute of Housing, who wrote the foreword to the report, said that it
“is very concerned that the combined effects of austerity and welfare reform run counter to the government’s fairness principle, and…that tenants are…disproportionately taking the strain of deficit reduction”.
That sort of upheaval and social stress cuts across some of the work that we are trying to do in tackling gang behaviour.
Long-term youth unemployment is at catastrophic levels, with unemployment of black and ethnic minority young men and women particularly worrying. The youth unemployment rate for black people has increased at almost twice the rate as that for white 16 to 24-year-olds since the start of the recession, and young black men are the worst affected.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that, when considering that statistic, it is important that the House realises that the situation in Britain is now worse than in the United States of America? That is how bad it has become. Black and minority ethnic communities are also seeing women, who were traditionally employed in the public sector, losing their employment. That is devastating for families who find themselves in that circumstance.
My hon. Friend, who has spoken eloquently and with great knowledge about the causes of social breakdown in his constituency, is absolutely right. It is shocking that black unemployment is higher than in America. We have often seen the consequences of that in America, and we know that such social polarisation and deprivation are undoubtedly two of the many causes of gang and serious youth violence. That cannot be ignored, because such behaviour does not occur in a vacuum, and the economy is a critical element.
This debate is not about poverty and unemployment, but any Minister who believes that we should not mention them in considering long-term strategies for tackling the sort of behaviour that has led to far too many young people being murdered and maimed on our streets, and hundreds of others being imprisoned, sometimes for life, with a devastating effect on their families, is missing the big picture.
Gang membership and serious youth violence reflect the experience of troubled families and powerful peer pressure on the streets, the hopelessness and alienation of exclusion, unemployment and powerlessness, the power of an alternative identity that gangs offer to young people without community or family protection, and much more besides. Mainstream services must bend to incorporate what we have learned about prevention and gang exit. There is much evidence from the work of the London School of Economics, from “Reading the Riots”, from the work of groups in the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, from Catch22, the Brathay Trust project and Working with Men, and from Harriet Sergeant’s powerful book, “Among the Hoods”.
There may not be a grand theory of everything to explain the riots and gang and serious youth violence, but we broadly know what to do. We need to prevent young people getting drawn into gangs, offer gang members a way out and ensure that enforcement works when all else fails. The question is whether we can ensure that we do that, and that we do enough of it.
Finally, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] I apologise. In time, perhaps, Mr Streeter. The final point is that we have no certainty at the moment about the long-term funding for the anti-gang initiatives that we already have. According to my borough, the funding for 2013-14 will be less than it was for 2012-13, and we are anticipating cuts from the Mayor of London’s contribution in the region of 12% to 20%. The chief executive of Westminster council has advised me that it receives two grants from the Home Office for 2012-13, but the ending gang and youth violence fund, which represents a sizeable proportion of the council’s spend on tackling youth violence, is only for the current financial year. There has been no indication of further funding from the Home Office for 2013-14.
Having said that, the Home Office peer review of Westminster’s gang programme highlighted the importance of creating a period of stability in provision. I ask the Minister to reflect on how it is possible that on one hand, the Home Office requires local authorities to provide a period of stability in gang prevention and exit programmes, but on the other hand refuses to guarantee the funding or ensure that the Mayor of London maintains at least the current levels of contribution.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for missing some of her opening remarks. Does she accept that whereas gang crime in London was perhaps once seen as an inner-city issue, it now very much affects a number of London’s suburbs, including my borough? Notwithstanding the need to maintain funding levels for the existing series of gang projects in the main London boroughs that are hit by gang crime, it is also necessary to recognise that this is a London-wide problem, and that there are London-wide funding issues, as well as the requirement to maintain stability for the funding projects that she is outlining.
I could not agree more. Many people were shocked about gang violence exploding into Pimlico, and the fact that it is creeping out into Harrow should also give us pause for thought, although I suspect that the Government’s complacency is such that they will reject that argument.
If we have learned anything, it is that, in theory at least, stop-go initiatives to prevent gang violence and deal with the stem causes of gangs, serious youth violence and the behaviour that leads to riots do not work. There must be consistency. Relationships must be built up and there has to be an infrastructure, which must be maintained. That will pay off, as we know. We only need to look at how much it cost to police and respond to the riots, and at the cost of detaining so many young people in youth offender institutions and prisons in the aftermath of that behaviour, to know that the investment will make sense economically, even before one starts to weigh up the importance to young people and their families.
I hope that the Minister will respond positively and give us a strong signal that we can at least be ensured of a continued delivery of investment from the Home Office and the Mayor’s office in programmes that keep young people off the streets and away from serious gang-related violence, for all our sakes.
I congratulate my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this important debate. Although I have some sympathy with her view that it is a shame that these issues are not being debated in the main Chamber, it seems that this is an appropriate place to debate matters that have a strong constituency aspect. I hope that the Minister will take on board the issues that she has raised.
I very much agree with the hon. Lady that there should be an absolute rejection of the culture of despair, which was part and parcel of the immediate response by the press and commentators to what happened— particularly, though not exclusively—on the streets of the capital city during August 2011. That issue of despair touches on a point made by the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), and today’s Evening Standard talks about Croydon no longer being a place that middle-class people wish to live in, which is having an impact on a number of big employers in the east Croydon area. Allianz is one such employer, but Allders department store has also closed down and Nestlé has moved out of Croydon to Crawley. There is a sense that the almost totemic aspect of the burning down of the long-standing department store in Croydon in August 2011 has had a very negative impact on Croydon as a place to live and work in. The idea of the culture of despair is to be questioned fundamentally.
The hon. Gentleman was right to say that this is not simply an issue for the inner cities, or for high-profile places such as perhaps Tottenham or parts of Hackney, which have traditionally been regarded as problem areas as far as gang culture is concerned. It is now permeating into what were once regarded as leafy suburbs—I appreciate that Harrow West does not necessarily comply with that stereotype, and the same can be said of Croydon.
I want to restrict my comments to something that is local to my constituency and say something about Westminster city council’s innovative approach to gangs and tackling youth violence, which has been touched on. The Your Choice programme was launched by the council alongside the Metropolitan police in the aftermath of the riots, starting as soon as November 2011. It was in response to an escalation in gang-related violence in the borough, and although there were lessons to be learnt from August 2011, it was part of a general process that had been happening for some years.
Your Choice is an evidence-based, multi-agency programme that involves the neighbourhood crime reduction service, the children and families services, the Metropolitan police, the probation service, and a range of other voluntary sector organisations, all trying to work together. The scheme tackles gang and youth violence through preventive measures such as early intervention in schools, gang outreach work and effective exit programmes, in order to ensure that a real difference is made to the young people who are in or at risk of joining gangs.
Fundamentally, it has two crucial aims. First and foremost, Westminster’s approach to gangs gives young people a real choice: they can engage and receive support, but if they do not, they must recognise that they face enforcement and sanctions. Secondly, the key to understanding the issue is that the local community must remain the absolute focus for the efforts, and the council provides a number of opportunities throughout the programme to capture community feedback and ensure that they are part of the solution.
To give a brief overview of how the programme operates, Your Choice currently works with more than 150 young people who are either actively involved in youth crime and gang activity, or are regarded as being at top risk of getting involved in gang violence. It has eight programmes that have been developed to tackle the complex and often multiple issues experienced by young people who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in gangs. Those programmes include an outreach programme and an employment programme that gets young people into education, training or work. There is a gang-exit programme, as well as a school awareness programme and a housing scheme that quickly moves victims or perpetrators where gang violence has occurred. One scheme also focuses specifically on girls, helping to improve their self-esteem and prevent sexual exploitation. I know that that issue is very close to the hon. Lady’s heart and I will address it in more detail later. What is absolutely central to the idea of all the Your Choice programmes, as co-ordinated by Westminster city council, is the concept and notion of personal responsibility, choices and consequences.
There have been some local successes. It is important for all of us as Members of Parliament in London to note that, as well as rightly highlighting particular problems to the Home Office. Where there are successes, there are opportunities not only to praise local workers, but hopefully to find a route forward that can affect the capital and other parts of the country where gang culture is becoming sadly more prevalent. The Your Choice approach has been peer-reviewed by the Home Office and it has received commendation not only for its strategic vision and leadership, but for challenging the commissioning approach and its overall ambition.
The notable outcomes have been here on the ground. As recently as October this year, gang workers have been conducting mediation on a number of estates in the borough between parents and young people in order to try and reduce tension. The intensive outreach workers have been getting pretty good results with complex families who have never before engaged with council services.
Since the end of August, regular positive outcomes have been achieved with the Fresh Start employment scheme. I would not be naive enough to say that I did not have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Lady said in her contribution. Of course, there is a massive problem with youth unemployment not just in this country, but in much of the western world. Broadly, the unemployment figures in this country are less negative than might have been assumed, given the broad state of an economy in which there is no growth, but there is a particular problem for under-25s. As I said, that applies not just in the UK, but in other parts of Europe, so we should not in any way suggest that a silver bullet has been produced by Westminster city council. None the less, its Fresh Start employment scheme has made some difference, even if not quite as much of a difference and not quite as quickly as we would all have hoped. One referral has secured an apprenticeship; another has obtained an interview; and two have secured permanent positions. All these men have been very difficult to engage in the past, but the council’s new approach has proven a success.
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he may be coming on to this, but does he accept that the larger part of the funding that has gone into developing the Your Choice programme—and the positive outcomes that he has been talking about—is from the Home Office and the Mayor’s fund that I am so concerned about in terms of its continuation and reductions?
Yes, I do accept that. I am always wary of doing too much special pleading for my own constituents or even people in London more generally, but the hon. Lady is right to say that specific problems were identified and tackled. As she rightly points out, a relatively small amount of money spent now may have such positive outcomes in terms of reduced public expenditure for years to come that that small investment should be made. We all appreciate, however, that these are incredibly difficult financial times. I have always made it a self-denying ordinance that where there are Government plans to make cuts, I will not stand up against those, because it is an amazingly difficult financial situation that we have to deal with. As a country, we are still borrowing one in every five pounds that we spend. The deficit reduction programme is, I am afraid, very much in the early stages of its achievement. We have many years of that ahead. We must get our public finances in order, but equally there are some fundamental issues that hon. Members in this debate rightly want to address.
I want to touch on the future of what is proposed with the Your Choice programme specifically as it affects Westminster city council. From the new year onwards, the following issues will arise. First and foremost is the issue of sustainable funding. We all appreciate that so much of the work that has been done in the past 15 or 16 months has relied heavily on short-term, ring-fenced, specific aspects of funding that take a significant amount of officer resource to agree and manage. The council and others are working hard, as are the Metropolitan police, to enable local authorities to submit business cases that can attract funding over a three to four-year period, but I still think that Westminster council and other local authorities in the capital require Home Office funding and support as part of the upcoming financial settlement in order to make that a reality.
There is increasing consensus that the problem of youth violence, and violence more generally, must be seen through the lens of public health. With responsibility for this area passing to local authorities, there is more scope than ever to take that slightly longer term perspective, but the varying faces of health continue to be relatively minor players in the partnership to tackle elements of youth violence. Support from both national and regional NHS commissioning bodies is still required to enable that partnership to improve. The hope is that with the health reforms bedding down, we will see, in the months and years to come, the element of stability that we all seek.
On the Home Office peer reviews, the Ending Gang and Youth Violence team are in the process of completing their reviews of the 29 priority areas for tackling gang and youth violence and have identified some 500 improvement actions. Across the country, there are areas of best practice for particular issues. The continued support and leadership from the Home Office, as well as the resources where necessary, will be crucial to ensure that we have a long-term spreading of that expertise to raise standards across the country. We do not want to get lulled into complacency and have to reinvent the wheel the next time there are riots.
I want to touch on the issue of girls and gangs, which other hon. Members may want to touch on as well. We are only just beginning to understand the extent to which young women are affected by gang culture. This culture has been regarded very much as a male thing. People think of young men being in gangs, with all the violence that is part and parcel of that. However, there is no doubt that there has been a significant problem, which is only just being uncovered, with the victimisation of young teenage girls through sexual exploitation and violence such as that exposed in the recent Children’s Commissioner report. There is also the issue of girls acting more as perpetrators as a result of the power and control exerted by gangs. It is crucial that the Home Office funding over the next three years is used to employ young persons’ advocates. That is an important step towards addressing those concerns, but it has to be part of a wider safeguarding response, and local areas need support and guidance to embed the right approaches.
Let me make some comments about elements slightly closer to home, which were alluded to by the hon. Lady. We all appreciate that Westminster, right in the centre of London, is pioneering the approach that we are talking about, but there is growing concern among residents of the Churchill Gardens estate in the Pimlico area of my constituency about gang members, many of whom—not all—are coming from other boroughs to Westminster to engage in criminal activity and intimidation. A petition was delivered to me only yesterday by two especially dedicated local constituents, which demonstrates just how anxious residents on estates such as Churchill Gardens feel when a core group of offenders comes from outside to cause trouble.
It is perhaps a slightly depressing thought that often things need to happen in the constituency that I represent, or in that of the hon. Lady in order for many opinion formers to take a little more notice than they otherwise would. When things happen within the curtilage of the parliamentary buildings that we are sitting in, they inevitably get far more coverage in the national papers and perhaps more extensive coverage in papers such as the Evening Standard. That allows the profile of the issue to become more prevalent, but gang culture is clearly a major issue that we face not only here in central London, but in many of the suburbs and the other seats whose representatives will make contributions later in the debate.
I shall conclude by asking this of the Minister. I hope that he will feel that his Department has a role in disseminating and sharing information on best practice when there have been especially successful programmes, such as Your Choice, in order to prevent instances in which one borough’s difficult gang members are not being dealt with as effectively and therefore cause trouble in neighbouring areas and beyond.
I am sorry that I am the only Back Bench Member from the governing parties to be present at the debate. Obviously, other important debates and other important parliamentary business are going on today, but I hope that the Minister will recognise that gang and youth violence is a concern that is close to the hearts of all hon. Members representing inner-city seats or London seats generally. These are very important issues that are affecting many millions of the constituents whom we represent. Perhaps it is a different culture from the culture that is prevalent in the relatively leafy market towns of Somerset. I am not being in any way disrespectful to the area that the Minister represents. However, these problems affect and have an impact on the constituencies of all Members of Parliament who represent the inner cities and, in particular, the capital city. These are Members from all political parties. I hope that the Minister will be able to address some of the very real concerns that he will hear about in the course of this debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing a debate on this important subject.
I am going to dive straight in by saying that despite media reports, overall crime levels in Hackney have dropped dramatically over the past six years. However, safety issues and the fear of crime remained the No. 1 priority in the council’s residents survey. Indeed, one reason why parents appeal school admissions is that young people are frightened of crossing postcode areas. Although fewer than 1% of Hackney residents have any involvement in gang crime, the fear effect therefore ripples out further. The Home Office had the mission in the past of reducing the fear of crime as well as actual crime, and I hope the Minister can comment on the progress that has been made on that, if it remains a target for the coalition Government.
My hon. Friend talked about riots and gangs overlapping; as she said, there are separate issues, but there are some similarities, and I will echo her comments in the time I have. However, I would like to mention one concern. I am a great defender of a free press, but one thing that those of us who are routinely active on doorsteps, in communities and in people’s homes get quite irritated about is the simplistic headlines generated by some of the media. Some of the journalism about the aftermath of the riots in Hackney was based on questionable and often unbalanced vox pops and on evidence gathering that was not true evidence gathering, which was not helpful. I suspect Hackney suffers from its improved transport links and its proximity to the headquarters of many national newspapers.
Let me give a feel for how inaccurate the coverage sometimes was. I turned up in Hackney town hall the day after the riots in August 2011. I was speaking to a French journalist, who interrupted our interview to stick her microphone out in the road, saying, “I just needed to get that police siren for good effect in my report.” That rather summed up the issue, especially as she also said, off-microphone, “This is a really nice area of town, isn’t it? It’s much nicer than Paris.” That is something I would echo for those Members who have not been to Hackney recently.
However, let me get back to some of the issues, causes and concerns. One really big concern that has been mentioned is unemployment. Unemployment among under-24s in Hackney is very high. We have a high percentage of young people, and about a third of Hackney residents—it is probably even more now, because these are old census data—are under 24. We had an increase of 30,000 or so in our population between censuses, which was made up largely of under-fives and people in their 20s and 30s. Some of those young people will be living in private accommodation, where 90% of people are employed, but only 40% of my constituents living in social housing are employed.
The issue of young black men is also of real concern; it feeds the negative stereotypes that are so often untrue, but there is a reality in Hackney. It is interesting that no schoolchildren were involved in the riots in August. There may be poverty in my constituency, but there is no poverty of ambition. We have seen hugely improved school results, so there is real reason for people to focus on what they can achieve in their own right, and that improvement in education is making a difference.
Another big concern—this touches on some of what is going on in our schools—is that, sadly too often, there is a lack of good influences and role models, particularly male role models. I will not repeat all the research, but an eight-year-old boy will typically look for a male role model. At that age, he looks away from his mother’s skirts, and he will latch on to whomever is around. On the Pembury estate—contrary to media reports, it was not the heart of the riots, but adjacent to where some of the worst activity took place—when older gang members have been put in prison, the youngsters, aged nine and 10, have sometimes begun to act the big man and to act as the leaders of their groups. The lack of male role models in schools, communities and, often, homes can therefore make a real difference.
That is a big issue for the Home Office to resolve, and I am not saying that it can resolve it, but we need to have a serious adult discussion nationally about what is happening, particularly in our primary schools. I always add up how many male teachers there are in primary schools, and, sadly, there are far too few. In under-five settings, too, there are generally far too few male role models. That is a real issue, which has a long-term effect, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) will have something to say about that.
Let me touch on the operation of gang injunctions. They were introduced by the coalition Government, and the Minister has direct responsibility for this area of policy. There is a concern about them, compared with antisocial behaviour orders. Gang injunctions come into operation after a crime has been committed, and they link good, positive aspects with punishment, but lawyers for the convicted have been arguing against the positive elements—for example, that their clients should have to attend college—and they have been winning. I hope the Minister will continue to be vigilant about how the Crown Prosecution Service represents the Crown in such situations, to ensure that those positive elements are not removed. I hope he will be humble enough to recognise that if gang injunctions do not work as intended, they may need reform. I am not completely against them, but they need to work, and it takes a lot of time to put them in place. If they are not delivering the positive, diversionary element, they are not worth very much. I hope the Minister will comment on that; if not, I hope he will give me a detailed response in writing.
Has the Home Office given any consideration to Operation Ceasefire, which is based on work by sociologist David Kennedy from Harvard? He came up with the Boston strategy, or Operation Ceasefire, in 1995, and it has subsequently been copied, most notably in Glasgow. In its work on knife crime in June 2009, the Home Affairs Committee praised the Glasgow model for achieving results. I will not go into detail, but, in summary, this approach involves pulling known gang members—nominals—together and confronting them with the information the police hold about them and with the impact of their crimes, before offering them the opportunity to come forward for diversionary activity. The model has critics and supporters, but has the Home Office done a serious analysis of this option for dealing with gang nominals?
That brings me to the work being done locally in Hackney. On the policing side, some progress is being made against gangs, but the most important work is being done by the gangs integration unit, which is headed by the former borough police commander, Steve Bending, who is now no longer a serving officer. The unit brings together police, probation, youth work, housing and any other agency that needs to be involved to tackle and divert gang members. It targets the top 50 gang nominals at any one time and sends them letters saying, “We know who you are, and we know where you are. We will be watching you. If you wish to divert yourself from gang activity, to move house or to get involved in education, or if your family do, we will help you in any way we can.” The unit is also doing a strand of work on girls in gangs, which, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) said, is a growing issue and a real concern in my constituency. The unit’s work is funded by the London borough of Hackney, where the mayor has done a good job, in difficult circumstances, of making sure that certain local priorities retain council funding.
I strongly echo the point so well made by my hon. Friend that we cannot have a stop-start approach. I am not asking for lots more money, but we need consistency of approach. Solving gang problems is not about having lots of new initiatives all the time. There are things that have been proved to work, and I am sure there are things we can learn that will work in different situations in the future. However, this is not about continually reinventing the wheel, as the hon. Gentleman said; it is about consistency of approach. I am sure the Home Office is fully aware that the cost to the taxpayer of not tackling these issues is probably higher than that of tackling them early, so this is important. Given the fear of crime that the few members of gangs can generate, this has to be a high priority for the Government.
I want briefly to mention some of the work being done by local landlords. The Peabody Trust, which is the housing association that runs the Pembury estate, has projects such as Threads, which helps young women on the fringes of gangs. It also has the local intervention fire education programme—LIFE—which is a five-day course for 13 to 17-year-olds on the estate. The evaluation is clear that the programme works and really diverts young people from antisocial behaviour. The trust has also introduced a 13-week parenting course, and parenting is an issue we have perhaps not touched on enough. It is challenging being a teenager’s parent at the best of times, but it is very difficult at the worst of times. It is easy to tell parents that they should control their children, but if they have a large teenager who has got in with the wrong crowd, that can sometimes be difficult.
We also have the Makeda Weaver project, supported by Shian Housing Association, which helps to rehouse gang members away from their area of activity. In the current climate, with such pressures on housing, some of which are caused by the coalition’s policies, such a scheme might be unpopular, but I would defend it to the hilt, because unless we get gang members away from their area of activity, there is no easy way of helping them to stay away from the company they keep there.
There are many organisations that do good work in Hackney. One is The Golden Company, which works with young people at risk of exclusion and often on the edge of gangs. They get engaged in a project that collects honey and other bee by-products, and they learn how to create small businesses and become young entrepreneurs. The company does some very good work.
In short, there are important local solutions, and one pan-London or national solution may not always work. We have good examples of how local solutions can work in Hackney. However, we can learn lessons, and some things can be applied more or less across the board. Pan-London support is crucial. There cannot be a rehousing programme from one borough: Hackney cannot have a rehousing programme on its own, and nor can Westminster. We need a proper way of working, agreed across London, or it will not deliver.
We need funding for diversion and intervention early on. The Peabody Trust is working with Hackney council to attend to parenting and intervention from toddler stage onwards. We need to consider a range of actions. I touched on parenting support, which is important, and so is support for young women; that is also happening in Hackney. It is all needed. I know that not everything that I have mentioned is within the purview of the Home Office, but I plead with the Minister to become a champion of the approach, across Whitehall.
I want to reiterate the point that it is not one-off funding and lots of new initiatives that we need. Let us stick with what works and keep funding it, so that we do not have a stop-start approach. As for those young people whose lives are ruined by gang membership, whose life chances are changed for ever and who are affecting their neighbourhoods, we need to get them out of that and into positive activity. Let us deal with the scourge of gang activity and gang violence once and for all.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) for her comprehensive remarks on the whole range of issues, and for returning, as she has done over many years, to the root causes: housing, welfare and some of the central challenges that exist across London.
I want to concentrate on diversionary activity, but will begin with some fundamental assertions. First, gangs are not new in British life. In the 19th century Dickens wrote well, in “Oliver Twist”, about gang life in London and how older men like Fagin could prey on groups of young men in the inner city and cultivate criminality among them. More recently there was violence involving mods and rockers. There are certain points in history when young men, masculinity and violence become issues—so what is new now? Why are we particularly concerned? I think it is because of the callousness towards human life, and how quickly it is taken—usually with knives—with so little regard for that life. The House needs to pause and think deliberately about how so many groups of young men can take life so lightly—and how they can take female life and the dignity of a woman’s disposition so lightly, displaying such terrible misogyny. The work of the Children’s Commissioner in recent weeks highlighted the way in which young women are often sexually exploited, which underlies that callousness about human life for which we should have concern.
Gang activity is but one small component of the story of the riots and it amounts, when we look at the arrest profile, to no more than 20% of the arrests that were made. We should not overstate the effect of gangs there; but in some areas those involved in gangs clearly orchestrated the violence. It may well be that those who were arrested initially were new to criminality and therefore were caught earlier. That is an important aspect of the matter; but, to underline the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North made, it is a matter for deep concern that we live in a country that is prepared to spend up to £2 million on an inquiry but does not want to get to the fundamental reasons for the riots and then act. I pay tribute to the work of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel but it was not a judicial inquiry. I am sure that hon. Members taking part in the debate today will want to revisit the issues, particularly on the anniversary of the riots, to consider what has happened since, but when we look for lessons it is not clear at all that there has been a coherent approach, save for the work on troubled families and some activity on gangs. What comes across in a debate such as this, from all the hon. Members who have spoken, is the comprehensive way in which the problem needs to be attacked, and the fact that such comprehensive action is lacking.
I applaud the efforts that have gone into a joined-up approach to gang activity in London. It is right to pay tribute to the work of the Metropolitan police, because there is a reduction in such activity across London. Young men are being imprisoned because of their gross antisocial behaviour. In Haringey there has been a 31% reduction in serious youth violence, a 31% reduction in gun crime, a reduction of just under 21% in knife crime and a 26.2% reduction in knife-enabled robbery. However, there is a lot of experience in the Chamber this afternoon and hon. Members know that when young people are put in jail they come out; that the same effort has not gone into the prison system; and that the recidivism rates for people getting out of Feltham are about 75%. They know that young people in their late teens or early twenties who are arrested have younger brothers and cousins who take over the turf, and that gang violence is quintessentially a turf war, a ridiculous parochialism about postcode. That means that the mainstay of violence in the London borough of Haringey is what happens between, broadly speaking, 12 gangs, although three dominate. Those three are NPK in Northumberland Park, Tottenham Man Dem, largely around the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, and the Wood Green Mob. Just weeks after the riots, we had the most amazing knife crime incident, with multiple knifings outside the McDonald’s in Wood Green, for no reason other than a turf war. I am afraid that as arrests are made, new people move on to the turf.
It is right, building on what has happened in Glasgow, to approach the issue as one of public health and to be purposeful about diversionary activity; but that is where I have deep concerns about the understanding of what works, the comprehensive nature of what is taking place, and the money that is being dedicated to the purpose. Communities Against Guns, Gangs and Knives funding in the London borough of Haringey is £45,000. It is barely possible to buy a lock-up garage in Tottenham for that. Ending Gang and Youth Violence funding—that is for projects such as the Ben Kinsella knife crime exhibition that young people visit, and targeted mentoring work—is £199,000 in the London borough of Haringey. A one-bedroom flat cannot currently be bought in the borough for that money.
I must ask what the priority is. Austerity issues are rightly raised, but in that context we must at least consider what our priorities are. I want to reinforce the points that have been made about quality, cost and the sustaining of investment. We know what works in mentoring, and not enough of it, of a high enough standard, is going on comprehensively in our constituencies. We know, too, that there are particular problems in high-rise tower blocks in constituencies such as Lambeth, Haringey and Hackney across London. The issue is about getting down to a neighbourhood level. It is not about a feral underclass; it is about the workless poor and an endemic worklessness in too many such tower blocks—dysfunctional and not working. It is deeply problematic that only 110 young people in Tottenham have benefited from the Work programme long-term. It is not good enough and it cannot be good enough in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
There are question marks over the work needed to ensure that young people do not follow in the footsteps of their brothers and cousins following arrest. As a society, we must underline the importance of men, and particularly fathers, in our communities. They cannot be forgotten. We must challenge the stereotypes coming out of the games industry and parts of the music industry in particular, where toleration of violence and misogyny is totally unacceptable. Not enough is being done to tackle it. I shall end my remarks there. Many of us could go on, but we hope that the subject is revisited in the main Chamber soon.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing it. I am sorry that I did not hear everyone’s contribution, as I had to leave to meet a group of young people from Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights academy in my constituency who have been visiting the House of Commons today.
I want to speak today for two reasons: first, to underline the huge importance to my constituents of tackling gangs and serious youth violence; and, secondly, to urge the Government to take an holistic approach and put their money where their mouth is in tackling the problem. They need to think hard about how they use the resources that they have allocated to best effect.
In the past nine months, I have met the parents of three young men who were stabbed to death in my constituency or neighbouring constituencies. In March this year, Kwame Ofosu-Asare, a 17-year-old boy from Catford, was stabbed to death in Brixton. I will speak a little more about that incident in a few minutes. The second young man whose mum I met was Nathaniel Brown. In August this year, he was stabbed after a party in Downham and lost his life on the street there. The third young man whose father I met was Kevin Ssali. He was stabbed as he got off a bus in my constituency in Lee Green in September. There are no words that a Member of Parliament can use when sitting in the front room of a parent who has lost a son or daughter to brutal violence on our streets. Tackling such violence is one of our biggest challenges.
To underline the importance of tackling gangs and serious youth violence, I want to say something briefly about Kwame Ofosu-Asare, who was killed in Brixton. The court case into his murder started last week. The prosecutor, Crispin Aylett, told the court:
“Kwame was not a member of either gang”
involved in the incident in Brixton. He continued:
“He was killed for no reason other than his murderers had come upon him on an estate they considered to be enemy territory and at a time when they were looking to take revenge for the stabbing of one of their own only hours earlier.”
I never met Kwame, but everything I have heard about him suggests that he was a very fine young man with a very bright future ahead of him. His father has been understandably beside himself with grief. He has come to the House to ask what we will do to prevent such violence from happening again.
Such incidents are not isolated. When I visit community groups in my constituency, such as XLP, a youth project based in Lewisham, and Second Wave in the neighbouring constituency and meet young people, I am struck by the seriousness with which they talk about their safety. I feel safe on the streets of Lewisham. We can quote statistics about falling crime, but when young people are losing their lives, the streets do not feel safe to them or their parents, which is why it is imperative that the Government and everyone in the House come together to tackle the problem.
There are four parts to the process to think about. First, we need to think about how to prevent young people from getting involved in gangs and serious youth violence in the first place. Secondly, when they are involved and caught up in gangs, we need to give them a way out and the means to get out. Thirdly, we need to tackle the retaliative behaviour and escalation of violence. Fourthly, when young people and those involved in violence go to prison, we need to ensure that they have a means to find a different life for themselves and not get caught up in exactly the same behaviour that they were involved in before they went to prison.
On the first part of that process, there are fine examples of community-led projects, which, with a relatively small amount of money, have a proven track record of going into schools, talking to young people and being accessible to them. They look like and sound like the young people, and they listen to them. Such projects can make a huge difference in stopping those on the edges from getting caught up in gangs and serious youth violence. They can help young people to understand the consequences of their behaviour and that if they are hanging around with a dodgy group of friends, they can get caught up in joint enterprise charges. It is important that such work is done in our schools at a young age to tackle the issue.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I was talking about what needs to happen to stop young people getting involved in the gang culture in the first place. We must think very hard about what leads a young person—or even an older person—to think that they can resort to the level of violence that we see on our streets to resolve a difference. The Government cannot necessarily solve the problem; it is as much about parents, families and communities coming together and saying that the violence is unacceptable. The Mizen foundation, which was launched by the parents of Jimmy Mizen who was also murdered in my constituency, has recently introduced the valuable initiative, “Release the Peace” to stem the level of anger and violence that we see among some young people in our communities.
When young people are involved in gangs and caught up in youth violence, we need to find a way of giving them a route out. We need to enable young people to talk to someone in confidence when they arrive at accident and emergency with a stab wound. It is imperative that they can be open about what has happened, instead of closing up and not talking to anyone.
In Lewisham, the Trilogy Plus initiative, which is run by the police, has recruited previous gang members to become mentors and to work hand in hand with families of young people who are in gangs. The idea is to make it clear to young boys or young men what the consequences are of going out on the streets and doing certain things. They are told very clearly that the police will catch up with them. That sort of work on a real-time basis is critical.
We need to find a way to stem the escalation of violence. In my earlier intervention, I talked about online material that glamorises gang culture and that fuels and foments some of the animosity that exists between rival gangs. The problem will become more significant as time goes on. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport should talk to the Home Office about how, in future communications legislation, it might consider giving the courts more power, under very constrained circumstances, to take down such material because of the damage that it does on the streets in our communities.
As I have said, we need to provide a route out for people who have been in prison after being involved in serious youth violence. Nothing will do that better than finding a job. Instead of going back to the neighbourhoods in which they were living or hanging around with their old groups and friends, they need to be given a way out.
The situation is not straightforward. Some money has to be invested in the projects and initiatives that work. There is expertise in this area and the amount of money that is required is quite small. I implore the Government to do all they can to solve this horrendous problem that is afflicting our streets and communities.
I am honoured to respond to this debate, which has been organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), both formally on behalf of the Opposition and as an MP who, like many of those who have spoken today, lives day to day with such issues. If there is one message that the Minister can take away from the debate it is that this is not just about public spending. For many of us, it is the life and death of our local communities, and it is our local young people whom we are concerned about. The contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) recognise very strongly the need and the genuine concern to get this matter right, not just over the next year or so but over the whole generation.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), who has just been elected. He has a strong passion for this issue and, in his former life, made a tremendous difference to the local community in Lambeth.
I think I speak for everyone when I pay testament to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North who has displayed a persistent commitment to this issue and to getting it right, too. She is unparalleled in her experience and knowledge of, and passion for, tackling youth violence and gang crime.
Like many Members in this debate today, I have cause to reflect on the young people whom we have lost to these crimes in my local community in Walthamstow—whether they be the young people who have been killed or the young people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by being a victim of youth violence. There were 155 incidents in my own borough last year, and a fatal stabbing after a party just this summer of a youth on the cusp of adulthood. That senseless loss of life has to stop. However, it is a question not just of addressing these issues when we are in a crisis situation—when we have riots on our streets—but of the day-to-day work that needs to go on to turn around the cultures and practices that all too often lead to such incidents.
I encourage the Minister to read the work of John Pitts so that he can better understand the nature of the gangs and of the young people whom we are dealing with in these instances. We should not see all young people, or even the reasons why they get involved in gangs, as the same. The Minister needs to understand why we are calling for a joined-up approach and why it is so important to invest not just in policing but in housing, social care and education. He should also look at the contribution that other parts of Government can make.
The Minister may well say that we have had some success in dealing with the issues over the past year and a half, and I agree with that, especially with the introduction of the Trident gang programme in my part of the country. We know just how much crime gangs are responsible for in our local communities—Members have mentioned many of them in this debate. We also know that gangs are responsible for about 14% of rapes, so when we talk about the gender effect of gang crime, it is about not just young girls being drawn into gangs but the consequences on our streets. We know that the Trident programme has made a difference. We have seen a 34% reduction in the numbers of young people being involved in gang crime, and the arrest of 1,500 gang members in London.
The question today is what happens next. The Minister should take away from this debate the fact that we are concerned, as indeed the Centre for Social Justice is, that our first step should be the engagement by the police with these young people, but that cannot be the only one. In particular, the concept that we can arrest our way out of this problem just does not hold true.
I read the report by the Centre for Social Justice and about the funding that is now going into gang intervention work, but I was concerned about the challenges that face some of the organisations involved. For example, some groups are being stopped from applying for funding because they are working with younger potential victims of gang crime. Many Members here today have flagged up the familial links in gangs. We see young people getting involved in the culture through their brothers, sisters, cousins or even next-door neighbours. Their close networks can lead them to be involved in gangs, and we need to stop that before it even starts.
The other problem is that the funding is guaranteed for only a short amount of time, and we all recognise that our problems cannot be resolved speedily. The most crucial aspect of the CSJ research shows that the relationship between the police and young people has got no better, and indeed in some circumstances it has got worse. If we want to turn around young people’s sense of their relationship with the public services—those people who are there to serve them and keep them safe—we need to do a lot more than we are doing at the moment.
That is about a number of factors. First, it is about building resilience. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East spoke admirably about resilience and the ability to tackle life’s challenges without resorting to violence and without feeling the need to join a gang, and about finding a positive identity and positive future for yourself as a young person.
Secondly, it is about understanding where the flashpoints are. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North admirably set out where those points of crisis and tension are on our streets, and she spoke about trying to divert young people away from them.
Thirdly, it is about the longer term engagement that we have with young people. Containment of young people who are involved in gangs is simply not an effective strategy. We have to engage with them, and we have to dispel and disperse those kinds of behaviour.
Fourthly, we have to protect the victims. I am very mindful that 70% of young people in London do not feel safe on our streets. That means that they do not feel safe getting on a bus to go to college, let alone walking about their own capital city. We have to address these issues too, because they feed into a culture in which gang violence and youth violence are the norm, rather than something that we must all address.
We recognise that dealing with this issue involves a joined-up approach. I press the Minister to think very carefully about what he can do to bring pressure to bear to tackle some of the bureaucratic problems that many people within our local communities face in trying to address these issues, particularly in terms of housing. We have heard today about some of the challenges that many of our local authorities face in moving people. Moving people cannot be done purely on a borough-by-borough or neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood approach. It needs to go from the grass roots up, but it also needs national support.
We must also learn from the best in the voluntary sector. Many people here today have already mentioned some of the fantastic groups that they work with in their local communities. I have had cause to meet Barry Mizen, and he is an incredibly empowering and impressive man. I have also met representatives of organisations such as the Spirit of London and Bang FM in Harlesden, and I have met many local councillors, such as Councillor Zaffar Van Kalwala in Brent, who are trying to tackle some of these issues at a grass-roots level. Within my own community, there are the Active Change Foundation, Gangs Unite—
Does my hon. Friend agree that empowering communities is a fundamental part of finding solutions to the problems that many of our poorer communities face with high levels of youth violence? Croydon North has an escalating problem of that kind, as youth violence spreads across London from the inner urban areas.
Next door to Croydon is Lambeth, which is of course the borough I was leading until yesterday morning, where a very different and innovative approach, which bears further scrutiny, is being used. It empowers communities to take action and take control of the problem for themselves. It is based on experiences such as the one on the Myatts Field estate, where a group of local parents, who were terrified when their young people started getting involved in gangs, began to take action for themselves with precious few financial or other resources. However, over a period of three years, they were able to get 80 of their young people out of gangs by running a range of activities for them. What the council is doing through a new youth services trust is to give local communities access to public resources to take action themselves. Is my hon. Friend’s view of empowerment models such as that one favourable?
My hon. Friend, who is newly elected to Parliament, has just shown why he will be a very powerful advocate for his local community, and he has also shown that he offers a huge amount of expertise on what works in tackling some of these problems.
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case about empowerment and about working from the grass roots. As I was about to say, I absolutely agree with that approach but it needs resourcing. That is why this issue is about resources. When we consider that we spent £133 million in four days of policing the riots last year, the consequences to the public purse of not investing in those people who are working in the voluntary sector and our local communities who understand and can engage in these ways are huge. The Government have put £18 million in, but that is nothing compared with the 20% cut that we have seen in youth offending team and community safety partnership budgets, the very money that was funding the type of work that my hon. Friend and others here today have talked about.
Finally, I just want to put four questions to the Minister, which I feel he must address. First and foremost is the overriding question that all of us are asking: what happens to those who have been arrested and their families? What happens next? The strategy cannot simply be to deal with that issue on a year-by-year basis. The Government must come forward with a plan to deal with those generations who are affected, including the next generation and those people who are coming out of prison.
Secondly, where will the resources come from so that we can do that? We can all see the savings to the public purse from prevention. We need to see the Government being very clear about where the money will come from to make sure that those prevention programmes are made real.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch made a very important and powerful case about gang injunctions. Will the Minister commit to review the effectiveness of the proposals about gang injunctions and what they do on the ground, particularly to work on those positive diversionary activities to ensure that we take people out of gangs and into a positive future?
Finally, can the Minister tell us more about what he is doing to bring together other Ministers and other resources from other Departments? Those Departments include the Department for Communities and Local Government; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East referred to; the Department of Health; the Department for Education; and the Ministry of Justice. Too much money in Government is spent on dealing with the consequences of the failure to address youth violence and gang violence. Can he tell us more about what he is doing to bring those resources together to ensure that we join up our plans, to protect our young people and ensure that the potential that they offer to our communities is not lost but realised?
Thank you very much, Mr Streeter, for giving me the opportunity to conclude this afternoon’s debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this debate. I remember that about five or six years ago, when she was a Minister and I was a relatively new MP, she was very nice to me—well, she said that I was surprisingly sensible for a Liberal Democrat, which was qualified niceness but nevertheless nicer than I had expected. I will try to reciprocate that positive attitude during my concluding remarks.
I just want to give a little bit of context. I do not say this in any way because I take any of the issues that have been raised lightly, but listening to the debate, one might be forgiven for thinking that we are having it against a backdrop of escalating crime in London or across the country. I will respond in a moment to the substantive points that Members have made, but it is worth briefly putting the statistical context in front of the House.
That context is that recorded crime figures show a 14% reduction in homicides in the last year. That is very substantial. Offences involving knives and sharp instruments are down by 9% over the same period. Also, NHS data on hospital admissions for assault, which are a very good indicator of the level of violent crime, including unreported violent crime, show a 6% reduction in the 12 months to the end of March 2012. Members have been good enough to pay tribute to the work that has taken place with the Metropolitan Police Service and other agencies here in London.
Of course there are appalling incidents and we are not complacent. As a Government, we want to try to do everything that we can to reduce gang membership and gang violence, but it is worth noting that there have been successes. There are volunteers and charitable organisations across London and across the country as a whole who should feel proud of what they have achieved; we should recognise that their efforts are reaping some dividends; and we would like even more to happen in the future.
I will divide my comments into three sections: the first is about how we try to prevent gang membership and violence; the second is about how we try to intervene at the crucial point if we fail to prevent gang violence; and the third is about the sanctions that are used afterwards.
I obviously have only a few minutes left to speak, so let me split up the first section on how we try to prevent gang violence. In a way, prevention easily splits into a sort of adolescent stage and a pre-adolescent stage. Regarding the pre-adolescent stage, I hope that Members will join me in Westminster Hall tomorrow when we have a debate about early intervention. That is a very important area and Members will know about the troubled families initiative, in which the Prime Minister takes a personal interest. That initiative is trying to help the 120,000 most troubled families in the country. There is a very high statistical correlation between children being born in troubled circumstances and their going on to experience underachievement, as shown in their employment history, their crime record and their gang membership. There is a certain level of activity through which the Government can intervene in that area.
Members will also know about the Government’s commitment to the family-nurse partnership programme, in which we will double the number of places to at least 13,000 by 2015. So there is a body of early work, and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) again mentioned today the importance of even wider social initiatives, such as having more male teachers in primary schools and more role models for boys, and I agree with him on that.
We then get into the adolescent and predominantly male stage; we are talking mainly, although not exclusively, about young men. Members have referred to the Government’s initiative to reprioritise £10 million worth of funding to 29 areas, including areas here in London—every Member who has spoken in the debate, apart from me, represents a London constituency. At least half of that money, so at least £5 million, has been spent on grants that have been given to voluntary groups, and that is not the only funding that has been made available.
However, I should say that I do not think the Government’s commitment to tackling this issue is just measured by how much public spending is devoted to it. There are huge numbers of very good voluntary groups, such as cadets, scouts, sports clubs, church groups and others, that are run by people right across the country and that have a very big role to play in engaging young people and giving them meaningful activity that does not involve gang membership and violence. I therefore reject the notion that the Government’s commitment to the agenda is measured entirely by the amount of public money we spend.
Having said that, we are spending £3.75 million over two years on the communities against guns, gangs and knives programme, £4 million has been made available to voluntary and community organisations working directly in local communities, and—I was asked about this by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field)—we are also providing £1.2 million over three years, starting this year, to improve services to girls at risk of being victims of gangs and sexual exploitation.
I have been in the Minister’s shoes, and I am a constituency MP with a strong interest in this matter. He has talked a lot about voluntary projects, but what the Home Office can do apart from providing some funds is rigorously to evaluate what works and to ensure that funding goes only to the projects that work. It should not be sprinkled so thinly that it has less impact than it ought to.
We are keen to spend the money where it works most effectively. As has been pointed out, it is not just the Home Office that spends it; the Department for Work and Pensions has an innovation fund of £30 million, some of which is spent in this area, and there is another DWP project that helps prisoners on their release from prison. That matter was raised by a number of Members, including the right hon. Member for Tottenham.
The Ministry of Justice is leading some interesting pilot studies on payment by results, looking at how we can incentivise prisons more effectively to reduce the terrible reoffending rates, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. He also talked about work in young offenders institutions and adult prisons, and he specifically mentioned Feltham young offenders institution, which has joined together with the Islington youth offending team to deliver a specialist programme for gang members in custody. There is a lot of excellent work such as that, large parts of it directly supported, and in some cases funded, by central Government.
I have been listening closely to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and he has not yet answered the question that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) put to him: will the ending gang and youth violence funding from the Home Office, which is delivering so much of the anti-gangs strategy at the moment and is due to expire in March 2013, be continued at least at its present level into 2013-14?
Let me address that point, and the initiatives that we have carried out, in the remainder of my speech. It is relevant to the third part of what I hope to tell the House.
Let me address the funding first. I am not in a position this afternoon to give guarantees on funding for future financial years. The funding was never made available on the understanding that it would be available indefinitely. We want to plant seeds and allow trees to grow. There is a lot of voluntary activity of which we are very supportive, and community safety budgets are being de-ring-fenced and will be spent by police and crime commissioners or, in London, by the Mayor’s office. They might choose to spend more money in this area than has previously been the case, but we are not in a position to second-guess elected police and crime commissioners, including Labour ones, who might or might not spend more, depending on their priorities.
Although the Minister is absolutely right to make the case that none of the funding was to be indefinite, does he not accept that where a local authority, such as Westminster—I am sure this applies in other areas, from Hackney to Haringey and elsewhere—has successful programmes in place, it would be sensible to continue elements of the funding to ensure that we get the right outcomes?
We are keen to ensure good value for money, and that is what the Government will try to achieve with the huge amounts of public money we are spending. I am pleased that crime levels are dropping dramatically, and we want them to continue to fall, which is why we are also bringing forward measures such as the ones introduced just yesterday that will allow for more severe penalties for knife possession. Such sentences were not available in a mandatory form under the previous Government. We have new initiatives on injunctions, which we believe are very positive, and I will take forward the point made by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) about the positive as well as the negative use of injunctions. We have a reasonable story to tell, and we want to make further progress in the years ahead.