The Committee says that the Government's Serious Violence Strategy is a completely inadequate response to the wave of violence blighting our communities. The Committee is calling for:
- Stronger focus, leadership and direction from the Government and Prime Minister, and an accountable leader in every local area reporting to the Prime Minister on action to bring serious violence down.
- Major investment in local youth services and prevention work – including a new 'Youth Service Guarantee' to help prevent young people becoming caught up in violence.
- Urgent action to tackle county lines – including stronger local safeguarding plans.
- Substantial additional resources for policing.
- All schools in areas with above average risk of youth violence to have dedicated police officers.
- Action to cut school exclusions and end the part-time timetables in alternative education provision.
Police-recorded homicides have increased by over a third in the last five years, and knife offences have risen by over 70%. The number of under-18s admitted to hospital with knife injuries also rose by a third between 2013-14 and 2017-18. A growing number of young males, in particular, are being murdered on Britain's streets.
The Committee's inquiry found that the Government's rhetoric on a 'public health' approach to violence is not reflected in the reality on the ground, and that there is a serious mismatch between the Government's diagnosis of the problem and its proposed solutions.
The highly critical report states that the current epidemic of youth violence has been exacerbated by a perfect storm emerging from cuts to youth services, heavily reduced police budgets, a growing number of children being excluded from school and taken into care, and a failure of statutory agencies to keep young people safe from exploitation and violence. It finds that the Government's Strategy lacks leadership and focus, and the rise in serious youth violence must be addressed through much more concerted Government action at a national and local level.
Government's response to the rise in serious youth violence is completely inadequate
The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, commented:
"Teenagers are dying on our streets, and yet our inquiry has found that the Government's response to the rise in serious youth violence is completely inadequate. They just haven't risen to the scale of the problem.
The rhetoric about a public health approach is right, but too often that's all it is – rhetoric. There are no clear targets or milestones, and no mechanisms to drive progress. To publish a weak strategy and convene a few roundtable discussions just isn't enough when faced with youth violence on this scale. The Home Office has shamefully taken a hands-off approach to this crisis, but it is a national emergency and must be treated like one. They need to get a grip.
Serious violence has got worse after a perfect storm of youth service cuts, police cuts, more children being excluded from school and a failure of statutory agencies to keep them safe. The Government has a responsibility to deal with this crisis urgently.
Far more needs to be done to intervene early in young people's lives, making sure they have safe places to go to and trusted adults to help them and protect them from harm. So much of this support has been stripped away, leaving children vulnerable to exploitation by criminal groups.
The Home Office's youth intervention projects are far too small scale and fragmented compared to the services that have been lost. That is why we are calling for comprehensive, statutory youth services, backed by ring-fenced Government funding to create a new national 'Youth Service Guarantee'
The Committee has long called for more investment in policing and we look forward to seeing the details of the Government's latest plans, but this must include dedicated school officers in higher risk areas.
We heard from families whose lives have been devastated by serious violence. Young lives can and must be saved, but the Government and Prime Minister must make it a priority to reduce serious youth violence and get a grip on this crisis immediately".
Government leadership on serious youth violence
The Committee's 2018 report, "Policing for the Future", argued that the Home Office must step up to the plate and play a much stronger role in policing policy, highlighting the many weaknesses created by a fragmented approach to governance and decision-making. This new report has laid bare the weaknesses of the Government's response to serious youth violence, including the lack of national or regional ownership of the problem. The Department's approach is not fit for the task at hand, and its lack of national leadership on this issue is evidence beyond doubt of the need for a change in direction.
Following the previous Prime Minister's summit in April, the establishment of a Ministerial Taskforce on Serious Violence is welcome, along with the Cabinet Office team due to support its work. The Committee expresses concern, however, that any momentum generated by the PM's summit is being lost. The new Prime Minister must ensure that the Taskforce has the resources it needs in order to function effectively and target resources in the right places. The Committee recommends that the new PM takes personal responsibility for reducing serious youth violence and driving activity in this area, tasking Cabinet Ministers with taking ownership for key actions.
County lines offending
'County lines' exploitation is blighting communities and destroying young lives. Children have been let down by safeguarding systems that are far too narrowly focused on risks inside the family home, as well as an ongoing failure of agencies to work effectively together to build a package of support around young people. These systems and processes have failed badly to keep up with county lines groups, who exploit and abuse children who may be perfectly safe in their family home.
Safeguarding bodies should be given a duty to produce local plans, with clear targets and milestones, to reduce the number of children at risk locally of county lines exploitation, reporting back to the Home Office on a regular basis. The Government should also examine whether changes are needed to the statutory framework and resources underpinning child safeguarding, to ensure that children abused outside the home do not fall under the threshold for social services support.
The Committee heard that violence is being driven by a demand among drug users for a service described as "24-hour 'dial a dealer'". It concludes that the Home Office's Drug Strategy is failing. The Government has acknowledged the link between the drug market and violence, so its future strategy must include action to reduce demand by improving the provision of treatment for drug users.
The Committee welcomes the additional in-year funding for policing to tackle serious violence, and the creation of violence reduction units to coordinate the police response with other partners. It expresses concern, however, at the short-term nature of the funding that has been announced, and calls again for the Government to make available substantial additional resources for policing.
The Committee found that more needs to be done to increase the confidence of young people in the police—particularly those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, who are experiencing disproportionate levels of stop and search at a time when there has been a marked reduction in community policing. It recommends investing in neighbourhood policing and ensuring that, by the beginning of April 2020, all schools in areas with an above-average risk of serious youth violence have a dedicated school police officer.
Early intervention and youth services
The Committee's inquiry found very strong evidence linking deprivation and vulnerability with knife crime and serious youth violence. Links between school exclusion and knife crime suggest that our education system is currently failing many children, including those most in need of holistic support and early intervention. Providing only part-time timetables in alternative provision is also a very serious failing: most excluded children are in need of more social, educational and emotional support—not less.
The Government has recognised that it needs to take a public health approach to serious violence, diagnosing and treating the root causes of the problem. But it cannot just refer to any non-police intervention as the 'public health' approach. Its rhetoric does not match the reality of what is happening on the ground. The current epidemic of youth violence has been exacerbated by a perfect storm emerging from cuts to youth services, heavily reduced police budgets, a growing number of children being excluded from school and taken into care, and a failure of statutory agencies to keep young people safe from exploitation and violence.
The Government's additional funding for youth projects has been fragmented and small-scale. It needs to introduce a fully-funded, statutory minimum of provision for youth outreach workers and community youth projects in all areas, co-designed with local young people. This would be a national Youth Service Guarantee, with a substantial increase in services and ringfenced funding from central Government. It should include enhanced provision in areas with higher-than-average risk factors linked to serious youth violence.
Over the last decade, many of the ties that bind communities together have been severed, from youth workers and neighbourhood police officers to community safety teams and safer schools officers. Local authority finances are being increasingly consumed by statutory services such as social care, housing and looked-after children, and council budgets will not benefit directly from savings to the criminal justice system and the health service. The Government must ensure that additional funding is made available to invest in effective activity to reduce serious violence. It needs to recognise that prevention is a far more cost-effective alternative to spending so much money on reactive and acute responses later on, which cost the taxpayer far more in the long term.