Towards a less violent society
Vicky Foxcroft MP, Opposition Whip and Chair, Youth Violence Commission
Over the summer the Youth Violence Commission, a cross-party group of MPs that I Chair, launched its interim policy report, outlining our emerging recommendations to tackle youth violence. This has been two years in the making and sadly the need for long term solutions becomes increasingly pressing with each passing day.
The day after we launched this report, the Office of National Statistics reported that knife crime had increased nationally by 16% and has now reached an all-time high. Homicides have risen for the fourth consecutive year in a row, and so far this year nearly 100 murder investigations have been opened in London alone. Many of these victims are teenagers and we are seeing younger victims and younger perpetrators. In the last three years, the Met police arrested nearly 300 children under the age of 12 for carrying a weapon in London. This is heart-breaking and we cannot allow ourselves to become immune to statistics like this.
There are no quick fixes to tackle youth violence, but with the right strategy and leadership it can be achieved. Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), for instance, has accomplished a remarkable drop in violence since it was set up in 2005. Within a decade, Scotland had more than halved its murder rate and last year not a single teenager was murdered in Scotland. Karyn McCluskey, the brilliant former director of the VRU, argues that we must treat violence as a public health concern and I absolutely agree. Scotland has shown that violence can be prevented in the same way that public health efforts elsewhere have prevented the spread of infectious diseases.
As with diseases, prevention is better than cure and a focus on early intervention would have a substantial impact on reducing violence in our society. It is no coincidence that trauma in childhood can dramatically increase the likelihood of an individual becoming either a victim or perpetrator of violence in later life. Nor is it a coincidence that emergency hospital admission rates for violence are around five times higher in the most deprived communities than in the most affluent. To truly have an impact on violence reduction we must start tackling these root causes, not just the aftermath of violence. Violence is not something that happens by chance and policymakers have a responsibility to seek to change the circumstances which have made violence in our society prevalent.
So what can politicians do? We should be aiming for a cross-departmental strategy to span a generation. All too often strategies change with each new Government. Funding is moved from project to project, schemes are started and quickly dropped. When giving evidence to the Youth Violence Commission, Karyn McCluskey said that while the Scotland Violence Reduction Unit was ambitious in its ten year strategy, if she could go back again she would instead aim for a fifteen or twenty year strategy. We have a lot to learn from Scotland and the Youth Violence Commission’s recommendations have been heavily influenced by the public health model and its success in Scotland.
The drivers of violence are complex and any violence reduction strategy will not result in success overnight. This is why it is so important to reach a cross-party consensus on a national approach to tackle serious violence. The Youth Violence Commission’s final policy recommendations are due to be published soon, but this is just the start of our campaign to reduce youth violence. We know only too well that national attention on knife crime and youth violence is fleeting – briefly intense and then quickly forgotten as the news cycle moves on. As politicians on the Youth Violence Commission, we want to see every political party commit to a long-term strategy which truly tackles the root causes of violence. It is our responsibility to keep this on the political agenda until this is the case.
Hear more from Vicky Foxcroft MP at Blue Light 2018. View session details here.