Data links youth service cuts to knife crime rise

By Nina Jacobs

| 08 May 2019

Knife crime has risen more in areas which have seen the largest cuts to spending on youth services, according to new research carried out by a cross-party group of MPs.

Charities have called on the government to urgently review funding for youth work. Picture: Stock

The data, published by the all-party parliamentary group (on knife crime, showed councils cut their youth services spending on average by 40 per cent over the past three years.

At the same time there was a 68 per cent increase in knife offences recorded by the police in England and Wales.

The rise in offences, from 25,516 from the end of March 2014 to 42,790 to September 2018, came as some local authorities slashed their funding for services such as youth clubs and youth workers by as much as 91 per cent, the APPG said.

The data was drawn from Freedom of Information (FoI) responses from around 70 per cent of 154 councils contacted by the APPG in England.

The figures revealed Wolverhampton and Westminster were among the two highest areas to cut youth services spending (91 per cent).

The councils were closely followed by Cambridgeshire County Council (88 per cent) and Wokingham Borough Council (81 per cent).

The research showed police forces serving these areas saw some of the highest knife crime increases - an 87 per cent rise for West Midlands Police since 2013/14, a 47 per cent rise for the Metropolitan Police area (covering London), a 95 per cent increase for Cambridgeshire Police and a 99 per cent increase for Thames Valley.

The FoI responses also uncovered the number of youth centres supported by local authorities had dropped by half (51 per cent) since 2011 and there had been a 42 per cent decline in youth service staff over the same period.

A vast majority of councils (88 per cent) that responded to the request for information had seen at least one youth centre in their area close down.

The APPG, which is being supported by charities Barnardo's and Redthread, called on the government to urgently review its funding for young people and to consider a legal requirement for councils to provide certain youth services such as youth clubs.

Sarah Jones, Croydon Central MP and chair of the group, said: "We cannot hope to turn around the knife crime epidemic if we don't invest in our young people.

"Every time I speak to young people they say the same thing: they need more positive activities, safe spaces to spend time with friends and programmes to help them grow and develop.

"Our figures show how in areas where support for young people has been cut most, they are more at risk of violence. Our children's safety must be our number one priority," she said.

John Poyton, Redthread chief executive, said the APPG research highlighted the need to ensure all young people had access to support.

"Both at the point when they recognise they need help and perhaps most importantly before they realise they do," he said.

Local communities and the government had signed up to adopting a "public health approach" to tackling violence central to which was a long-term strategy including early intervention, he added.

"Young people are on a vulnerable transition between childhood and adulthood and youth services are crucial in ensuring they are able to reach out to trusted professionals to ask for help at the earliest opportunity."

Last month at a Serious Youth Violence Summit the government announced the expansion of youth sports projects into knife crime "hot spot" areas to reach those most at risk.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid also launched an eight-week consultation over plans to require public sector workers by law to raise concerns about children at risk of knife crime.

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