Knife crime and violence towards and amongst young people is still on the rise. For young people in the UK this is not a new revelation. There seems to be a constant stream of reports on social media and in the news of countless young people murdered on our streets. According to the Youth Justice Board, in 2021 to 2022, 3,500 knife and offensive weapon offences were committed by those aged 10 to 17. It’s devastating to think about the tragedies that befall young people, and every murder increases the worry and anxiety that we feel, leading to more carrying knives and more incidents occurring. Is this a never-ending cycle?
Youth violence was already a substantial concern pre-pandemic, but Covid lockdowns have left young people more vulnerable than ever before. Relentless tragedies across the world and in the news and on social media alongside years of uncertainty due to lockdowns and disruption in young people’s social development have contributed to an increase in high levels of mental illness across our generation. The NHS have reported that young people have a higher mental health need now, than ever before, with 1 in 6 young people in England (aged 5 to 16) experiencing a mental health problem in 2020, up from 1 in 9 in 2017. According to Public Health Wales more than a quarter of young people in Wales do not feel like they have mental health support at school.
With mental health provisions at a low, young people can easily feel alienated with their school, teachers and parents or carers. Gangs are brilliant at targeting young people with vulnerabilities to take advantage of and exploit. Many young people naturally feel afraid with such an atmosphere, many feeling less secure and worried in community or public spaces. For many, carrying a knife alleviates this fear, which only increases this atmosphere of anxiety amongst young people in turn.
The British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee launched a report in 2019 called ‘Our Generation’s Epidemic: Knife Crime’. This highlighted the benefits of taking a public health approach to knife crime nationally, which has had great success in Glasgow. A public health approach essentially treats violence like a disease; preventing violence through dealing with its causes and when violence does occur, reducing its harms for families and communities that are affected. These suggestions and learnings from Glasgow were not taken on by the UK Government or by the mayors of major cities such as London, Manchester or Birmingham.
Now 4 years later, the Youth Endowment Fund has released a report reiterating our Youth Select Committee’s recommendations. They call for a place-based approach which involves multi-agency and community engagement, addressing local context in responses which should be phased-out over varying and appropriate timelines for all specific situations.
We need a multi-pronged and multi-approached response to youth violence and a continued engagement with the affected community, long after the occurrence of an incident.
The statistics grow day by day. Young people are not statistics, and we deserve to be safe on our streets. Reducing knife crime and youth violence is a key priority in 2023 and even moving forward. The best way to do this is evidently via a public health approach.