The economics of violence

By Graham Duxbury

| 26 March 2019

It's a measure of the chaos surrounding our political system that the announcement of a contract to establish a £200m youth endowment fund to tackle serious violence crept into consciousness over the weekend. In normal times something as current and significant as this would have seen senior ministers rushing to photo opportunities in youth clubs all over the country. Maybe they were worried about finding any left to visit. 

Unsurprisingly, a march by millions of people in central London and the prospect of a prime ministerial resignation, cabinet coup or the spontaneous combustion of our entire democracy conspired to keep the announcement off the front pages. As the endowment fund is brought to life by the winning consortium of Impetus, Social Investment Business and the Early Intervention Foundation, we need to guard that it's not just the announcement that gets scuppered by Brexit.

Irrespective of what numbers were emblazoned on the sides of buses during the referendum campaign, one figure that isn't in dispute is that the UK will no longer have access to the 2.4bn euros per year it currently receives in EU structural funding, the majority of which goes to promote jobs, skills and economic development in disadvantaged areas.

Young people have been major beneficiaries of this funding, with many currently supported by the Youth Employment Initiative or by lottery co-financed Building Better Opportunities programmes. Darren, aged 19, is a beneficiary of support provided by the Progress programme in Coventry & Warwickshire. Darren had developed a pattern of negative thinking and resorted to self-harming. Coaching sessions helped him develop relaxation techniques so that he could work through situations step by step instead of feeling overwhelmed. This in turn led to work experience placements and a job interview.

When (if?) we leave the EU, the government has promised to replace these lost structural funds with a "shared prosperity fund", but a consultation on the form and focus of this fund is much delayed. If we're serious about tackling the scourge of crime and serious violence involving young people, we need to recognise that investing in more resilient local economies is as important as supporting innovative youth work. As many practitioners will attest, violence and gang membership are often the result of frustration at a lack of opportunity, which results in an alternative, and more dangerous search for status and ‘success'. Good diversionary activities can break into this cycle but will ultimately fail if there is nothing more positive and rewarding in the local area for at-risk young people to be diverted into.

How we stimulate enterprise, provide rewarding work, pay decent wages and support those on the margins to get a foothold on the economic ladder matters hugely to the conversation about youth crime and violence. Whatever version of Brexit we end up with, we need to invest in both the economic and community infrastructure of places considered ‘left behind' if we want this welcome investment to have a lasting impact.

Graham Duxbury, national chief executive of Groundwork

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