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Youth Crime: London

Volume 793: debated on Monday 22 October 2018


Asked by

My Lords, the Serious Violence Strategy sets out our response to tackling serious violence, including recent increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide. The strategy emphasises early intervention and prevention to stop young people getting involved in violence in the first place. On 2 October, the Home Secretary announced further measures, including a £200 million youth endowment fund that will support children and young people to prevent their involvement in violence and crime.

I thank the Minister for that response. The alarming rise in knife crime and the number of deaths by stabbing of young people in London prompted me to put this Question down, on behalf of those of us who have boys and are terrified about whether they will come home in one piece. The streets are not safe any more for young people. According to figures, knife crime has gone up by 15% in the past year in London, with 91 killings. That means an average of 40 knife crimes per day. Will sufficient police resources be put in place to tackle this, as well as a public health approach, which the Youth Violence Commission has recommended and which worked so well in Glasgow? It was the knife crime capital of western Europe but has seen a decline following a public health approach. Will the Government put proper resources in place to tackle this?

I mentioned in my Answer to the noble Baroness’s original Question the £200 million youth endowment fund. In addition, and given that the noble Baroness is talking about London—this does, in many ways, seem to be a particular problem for London—in July, the Home Secretary doubled the early intervention youth fund to £22 million. Through the trusted relationships fund, we are supporting nine projects that will support children vulnerable to county lines criminal exploitation. Four of these are based in London and will receive a total of £4.8 million. Further, £175,000 has been provided to support Redthread to expand work in London hospitals that will help victims of violent crime avoid or withdraw from gang activity, and £150,000 to support Safer London in its work to deliver young people’s advocates for young women in gangs and to reduce knife crime.

Is the Minister aware that, since 2012, about 30 youth centres in London have closed? While this might not wholly explain the worrying rise in violence, it must have been a contributory factor. Will my noble friend tell the House whether the Government have any plans to substitute that loss?

My noble friend will of course know that youth provision is a decision for local authorities and how they allocate funds.

Before the House gets totally fed up with me, I will tell noble Lords that the Government have given £40 million, and £40 million has come from the Big Lottery Fund, for youth provision and social action. We continue to fund the growth of the very successful National Citizens Service, and £700,000 has gone into the Delivering Differently for Young People programme.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests. There has been a cut to policing in real terms since 2010-11. In London, as the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, mentioned, 81 youth centres have closed, 800 full-time youth workers are no longer there and there has been a £39 million cut in youth services in the capital since 2011. Does the Minister not accept that these spending reductions have a direct effect on the ability of the police and local authorities to tackle knife crime?

My Lords, we have talked a lot in this place about police funding. It is important to note that public investment in policing has grown by over £1 billion from £11.9 billion in 2015-16 to £13 billion in 2018-19, including investment in counterterrorism policing, local policing and funding for national programmes. There are other funding streams, including the £175 million police transformation fund and special grants.

My Lords, in view of the IDPC report published today, which shows huge increases in the use of drugs across the globe despite harsh punishments and criminalisation, will the Minister seriously consider decriminalising the possession and use of drugs, as Portugal did very successfully more than 20 years ago? That would massively reduce youth crime and is probably the quickest and best way of doing that. It would also increase children’s recovery from drug use and enhance their ability to return to education and work.

The noble Baroness will know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has no intention of decriminalising drugs, but intends to get a better understanding of who drug users are, what they take, how often they take it and so much more. He is launching a review into the market for legal drugs.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Safer London, as mentioned by the Minister. Does she recognise what is behind the following tweet from a young person today:

“We’re desperate to see police patrols. Friendly neighbourhood officers who know the community. All we now get is aggressive cops jumping out of bully vans”?

Does the Minister realise the impact of the loss of community policing and local intelligence both on young people’s fear, which often leads to their carrying knives, and on stop and search?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work that the police do. Of course, the PCC decides how to allocate funding to the various types of policing mentioned by the noble Baroness. I also point out the initiative to reduce moped crime, which noble Lords were so concerned about. There has been a 32.6% fall in that type of crime. That is not to undermine exactly what noble Lords are saying, which is that certain types of crime are increasing, but the police are working to reduce crime in local areas in the way that it presents itself.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has told us about a blizzard of initiatives—some worth £150,000, some worth £700,000 and so on—but that does not alter the fact that the totality of services, by which I mean the whole-system approach, which is surely what is needed here, has suffered. We have seen huge reductions in local government funding, in health funding and in policing. How on earth can the Government continue to blame local authorities, police and crime commissioners and everyone else for the fact that it is their policies that are creating this situation?

My Lords, I am not in any way seeking to blame local authorities or PCCs; rather I am saying that they have budgets and they can decide what their priorities are for their budget allocations. However, I will say that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister recognise the strain under which the police find themselves, particularly in the light of changing crime patterns and of course the terrorist attacks that this country saw last year.