Whilst Westminster appears to be everlastingly consumed with all things ‘Brexit’, the arguably more concerning and urgent issue of serious youth violence continues to act as a scourge on the streets of our capital. Over the last couple of years, newsreels have unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, been dominated by the lives, families and communities damaged by the impact of knife crime in London. An apparent national shift within political discourse towards regarding serious youth violence as a ‘public health issue’ as opposed to a ‘police enforcement problem’ firmly places community and faith groups at the centre of tackling the root causes of youth violence. Therefore, faith-based and consequently interfaith strategies are integral if we are to deliver programmes which can ensure our communities, and our city is a safer place to live.
A greater focus on a ‘public health approach’ in tackling knife crime has been vocally championed by the Mayor of London, as he attempts to emulate Glasgow’s successful youth violence reduction strategy. On 15th July 2019, Mayor Sadiq Khan invited bereaved families and affected individuals to sit alongside public-service sector and charity officials, as well as community and faith leaders, to discuss the issue of serious youth-violence in London.
This event follows the publishing of a report by the City Intelligence Unit regarding the strong links between serious youth violence and multiple factors including youth poverty, deprivation, poor mental health and educational attainment. This report has uniquely brought together data from multiple agencies including the Metropolitan Police Service, London Ambulance Service, NHS and British Transport Police, which collectively provides the most accurate picture of trends in serious youth violence in London to date.
Geographical analyses have found that ¾ of London boroughs with the highest levels of violent offending are also in the top 10 most deprived London boroughs. Furthermore, the report has identified varying levels of youth crime at different times of the day and week within different demographics, as well as acknowledging the over-representation of certain ethnic groups as offenders and victims of serious youth violence. This data is arguably pivotal in allowing public bodies such as the NHS and Metropolitan Police Service to allocate and concentrate resources in certain areas.
However, in light of the need for greater focus on treating youth violence as an issue of public health, these findings should also benefit government bodies, charity organisations and community groups. Impact can be maximised by these groups directing attention and initiatives towards the most affected areas in the city of London. These initiatives focus on preventing violence before the violence occurs by engaging with individuals and communities, rather than simply reactionary measures put in place after the incident has occurred.
Whilst the Mayor’s statistics-based report discusses the root causes behind serious youth violence in London, Sadiq Khan’s speech laid greater weighting on the way in which his administration is attempting to tackle this issue. The Mayor chose to deliver his speech in the Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey, which has engaged with young people for over 100 years in the form of sports-based activities. Unsurprisingly, Sadiq Khan delivered a scathing review on the impact of austerity since 2010 on youth engagement funding, remarking on the vital work which youth groups play in ensuring vulnerable children remain on the ‘right path’. As well as applying pressure on national government to realise the impact of austerity on driving youth violence, the Mayor’s £45 million ‘Young Londoners Fund’ has attempted to counter cuts by providing small-scale grants for community groups to set up their own youth services.
Whilst these kind of ‘bottom-up’ approach, as opposed to ‘top-down’ approaches, are arguably better placed to engage local communities, they inherently require the existence of current community structures to play an active role in delivering these vital services. Of course, many of these existing community groups within London are faith-based. Therefore, interfaith organisations such as Faiths Forum for London must work to empower voices and inspire confidence in members within all faith communities, so they can coordinate their own initiatives to tackle youth-based knife crime. This must be the case if we are to truly tackle this systemic problem spanning multiple faiths, communities and boroughs. Equally, interfaith initiatives and programmes play an important step in encouraging social cohesion and greater cross-community understanding, which fits perfectly into preventing youth violence by tackling the root causes.
In the age of today, every successful campaign needs a hashtag and the Mayor’s new campaign to end serious youth violence within London is no different.
Despite this message appearing to focus on the potential offenders and victims of knife crime, his general message very much focused on the ‘us’ and what ‘we’ can do to empower our own communities to take a stand and fight back against serious youth violence.
Written by John Lewis