Knife crime crisis

The increasing number of fatal stabbings has prompted talk of a national crisis. The number of stabbings has increased alarmingly from a low in 2014.

306 people were stabbed to death in 2018 in the UK, of whom 76 were in London.  This year 17 people have already been killed in London, five in the last week, leading to calls for action by the Government. The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has met police chiefs to discuss urgent action to stop these violent crimes, many of them against children and young people.

Some commentators have blamed the cuts in public expenditure for these crimes and for the loss of 20,000 police officers, across the UK, in the last 10 years as a consequence of the Chancellor’s austerity measures. Theresa May has responded with the claim that there is no correlation between the decline in police numbers and these stabbings. Cressida Dick, London’s Police Commissioner, disagrees but the issue is more complex than this.

John Apter, the Chairman of the Police Federation, has drawn attention to “the decimation of youth services” as a consequence of cuts to Local Authority budgets. Youngsters are roaming the streets because youth clubs have closed. Police Chiefs also suggest drug gangs and the “county lines phenomenon” is causing criminality to spill over from urban to rural areas.

Another factor is the numbers of children excluded from school because they have become seriously disruptive and are unteachable. Some also have mental health problems that have remained undiagnosed so that appropriate provision cannot be made for them. Whilst Head teachers have rightly to prioritise the needs of the majority of pupils, there are not enough alternative schools equipped to cope with the delinquent minority. They fetch up on the streets, join gangs and get into criminal behaviour.

One response to knife crime has been the use by police of ‘stop and search’ to catch those carrying knives but it became discredited when it seemed that it was disproportionately used against black youngsters and nurtured resentment. The increased incidence of stabbings has led to calls for a more active use of ‘stop and search’ but experience in Scotland points to a very different approach. The aim there is to bring together the police, health professionals, social services and voluntary bodies to collaborate in creating opportunities for young people to feel a sense of belonging rather than alienation. Crucial to this alternative approach is to help potentially troubled youngsters to find work they can do so they can earn an honest living, develop a positive outlook and become responsible citizens.

Missing from this analysis is the role of the family. According to Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation, the UK has the highest rate of family instability among the developed world, particularly among cohabiting couples with children under twelve.  His research has found that “parents who are not married before having a child are far more likely to split up than those who are married”. Nevertheless, whether parents are married or not they have a responsibility for raising their children to be law abiding and responsible citizens as St Paul taught (Ephesians 6:1-4).

That provokes the question as to what churches can do in their neighbourhoods to help children and young people, especially those from split families, to stay out of trouble. After school clubs are one possibility, so that children have somewhere to go when their single parent is still at work. Another is to make outreach to young people a significant part of their mission strategy. My own church has chosen to do that. The youth minister leads a team that actively reaches out to kids on the streets and invites them to join activities that meet their needs, keeps them out of trouble and hopefully helps them to come to faith in Christ Jesus.

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