November 30 2023

Labour promises to tackle ‘knife crime epidemic’ if elected

Labour promises to tackle ‘knife crime epidemic’ if elected

Knife Angel by Terry Kearney (from Flickr). Sculpture by the artist Alfie Bradley

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, has this week unveiled a ‘£100m tough love youth programme’ to help tackle the ‘growing knife crime epidemic’ if Labour is elected.

As reported in the Guardian, the ‘young futures’ programme is set to target over 92 communities that struggle with problems of youth crime and violence. It will aim to develop a ‘youth futures hub,’ which will bring together mental health specialists, youth workers and neighbourhood police officers ‘to prevent young people from being drawn into violence’.

In announcing the policy, Cooper referenced the recent murder of 15-year old school girl Elianne Andam in Croydon. She stated that ‘no parent should ever have to worry that their children won’t make it safely to the school gates. And yet when we have these brutal knife attacks and children losing their lives, far too little is being done.’

Community leaders in Croydon have long been campaigning for more protection for young people where fear of knife crime is already prevalent. Just a few minutes away from where Elianne was attacked, another teenager, 14-year-old Jermaine Cools, was fatally stabbed in 2021. Jermaine was one of five teenagers killed in Croydon in 2021, which was reported to be highest number of any London borough.

Following this, the BBC reported how local community groups in Croydon utilised funding from the Mayor’s Violence Reduction unit to try to provide both better opportunities for young people and to improve the community’s relationship with the police. There remain significant difficulties with fostering positive relationships between the police and young people across London. Trust in the met is particularly low amongst young black men as the Met police have been found to be ‘institutionally racist.’ A recent survey of over 1000 Londoners showed that three quarters of young males felt that officers treated  some parts of society differently to others.

The BBC reports that in Croydon, the Voluntary Action group has sought to improve police and community relations by offering space for local officers to hold weekly meetings with members of the community. This was reportedly helpful for the police to help them understand local needs and break down the ‘wall of silence’ that they often faced. There appeared to be some progress made when 2022 saw no young lives lost in Croydon and the rate of teenage homicide half in London. However, the killing of Elianne Andam was described as ‘triggering’ by Tilisha Goupall, a member of My Ends community group, and has served as a reminder that the issues surrounding youth knife crime are far from being resolved.

Speaking at the end of 2022, the BBC reports how Croydon’s Safer Neighbourhood Chair, Donna Murray Turner, claimed: ‘The fact there’s been no more deaths is more about luck and the grace of God, than it is about strategic thinking.’ She warned that despite all the good work, the cost of living crisis was having a negative impact: ‘We’re already living in a town where there have been serious cuts. But what are we doing, despite those cuts, to help those young people?’

James Watkins, who runs a monitoring and development group for young people: ‘Mainzworld’, also spoke to the BBC and explained that the borough was in debt leading to funding cuts for organisations that were aiming to reduce youth violence. He stated, ‘you’re fighting a losing battle, to be fair, and that’s how we feel sometimes.’.

The Guardian reports that, if Labour are elected, they plan to invest £91.7 million towards the programme. It was emphasised by Cooper that ‘We need urgent interventions to stop young people getting drawn into crime or exploitation in the first place.’