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Knife Crime: Summer 2021

Volume 699: debated on Monday 12 July 2021

This year, we are investing more than £130 million to tackle serious violence at local level. That includes funding violence reduction units, which draw in all key partners, including the police, local authorities and the community, to address the root causes of violence, as well as targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. It also includes up to £23 million for new early intervention programmes that will help stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.

Yesterday, I spoke to Cindy, whom I met three years ago as we both worked to support her friend whose son had been murdered with a knife. She phoned to tell me that a 16-year-old son of another friend had also been stabbed and killed this weekend. She told me:

“I haven’t called his mum yet, I don’t know how I will bear hearing her screams in my ears.”

Knife crime has risen in every police command area across the country in the last decade, doubling since 2013. Lives are being lost, families devastated and communities traumatised every single week, yet the Government have disbanded the serious violence taskforce. Why are they so complacent about the loss of young lives?

May I try to correct the hon. Lady? First, clearly everyone in the House has heard the account she has given of her constituent and the families affected in her constituency by knife crime. We understand and we express very seriously our commiserations to the families involved. However, I do think the hon. Lady has perhaps missed the news about the violence reduction units, which we are funding, particularly in London, to help the police work together with other agencies, local authorities, local groups and so on to try to tackle serious violence both with enforcement and, importantly, with local intervention projects. Again, I very much welcome the opportunity at some point of sitting her down to talk about the youth endowment fund, for example, and to explain how that will help young people in her local communities. This Government are not complacent about serious violence or the deaths she has described. We are working very hard with the police and with local communities to ensure that these terrible crimes stop.

The Government have stated that they are committed to a public health approach to tackling violence affecting young people and the Minister has just mentioned the violence reduction units, yet our 18 violence reduction units only receive short-term funding settlements. The work these units do is extremely important in tackling the root causes of violence, but they cannot formulate long-term strategies without long-term funding, so what is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the comprehensive spending review delivers on that?

As the hon. Lady knows, because we have discussed this many times in the past, violence reduction units are a key part of our work to tackle serious violence. We are constrained within the current spending review, with the wider problems of the pandemic and the impact that has had on Government spending, but she will know that the Government have invested record amounts in these units to get them working across the country in the 18 areas most hit by serious violence. However, we are going further than that, because through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are imposing a serious violence duty on every single local area across the country, so that every single area is taking the public health approach that she so commends, and rightly so.

Michael Jonas, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, Jay Hughes, Levi Ernest-Morrison and Tashawn Watt are all young children and young people who have been stabbed to death in my constituency over the past few years. Words cannot do justice to the grief and anguish this has caused their families and the wider community. The Government say they are committed to a public health approach to youth violence, but youth centres, schools, health services and children’s centres have all had their budgets decimated over the past 10 years. My constituents cannot wait any longer. When will the Government reverse these cuts and take urgent action before more lives are lost?

The hon. Lady rightly raises the names of those who have been murdered in her constituency, and of course our thoughts go to the families and friends affected by that. Of course, serious violence does not just affect the individual family; it affects the whole community. That is why we are taking this whole-system approach: very tough law enforcement, but critically, also trying to intervene at an early stage to help young people to avoid gangs, which will have an impact on the streets more widely. That is why the serious violence duty is so very important. I really hope that, on the next occasion the Labour party has to vote in support of the serious violence duty, it takes the opportunity to do so. Working together with schools, hospitals, other healthcare agencies, the police and local authorities is how we are going to help ensure that the sorts of incidents she describes do not happen again.

As we have been watching the incredible achievements of the England football team, the epidemic of violence on our streets has been growing, with younger and younger boys losing their lives in horrific murders, including a 16-year-old we are mourning in my constituency. Many of our football heroes had tough upbringings and have spoken out about the importance of role models and mentors—adults in their lives who helped them unlock their talent. I want all our young people to be able to unlock their talent, including that small group of vulnerable people at risk of being gripped by crime, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) says, many of those adults—in youth work, in education, in social care, in the health service—have disappeared following a decade of extreme cuts. Our summer holidays should be flooded with youth work, mentorship programmes, sports clubs and mental health support, as well, of course, as good neighbourhood policing. The scale of the problem deserves an appropriate response, so will the Government today recognise the potential of our whole nation and commit to helping every vulnerable child this summer?

May I join the hon. Lady in acknowledging the sportsmanship, the talents, the dignity and the joy that the English football team have brought so many people over the tournament? They have been the very best of us; and they have been the very best of us while facing some horrific abuse—absolutely horrific racist abuse—during the tournament, and that is not acceptable.

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise the question of role models. I know from my own son’s adoration of many of the England footballers just what powerful role models many of those footballers are to younger people. Sadly, of course, we cannot incorporate a Sterling or a Harry Kane into every youth project, but what we can do is build the structures around them. That is precisely what we are doing, with increased investment both through the Department for Education funding over the summer and through our own work in funds such as the trusted relationships fund, which is helping young people to build positive relationships with positive role models. I join the hon. Lady’s cri de coeur that we should pay full credit and respect to our footballers. They themselves tell the tale that if you have the belief and you have the talent, my goodness you can make it.