06:15, November 30 562 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-30 06:15:04
Beyond the blade  
 Knife crime is an epidemic. Do we care enough to look for a cure?

The figures revealed by the Guardian on Tuesday, which show knife deaths among children and teenagers approaching a 40-year high, should shock us all. What’s more, this year is no outlier. Knife crime is back on the rise in a big way. Last year hospital admissions for knife assault wounds jumped by 21%, which followed a 13% rise the previous year. And the majority of these victims? Young people.

Police forces across the country are seeing a rise in knife crime: 38 of the 44 police forces in England and Wales have reported an increase. And the age of those carrying knives is getting younger. When 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds are walking around with knives, something has gone very wrong.

Behind these numbers, behind every headline, are communities and families in shock. In my area in Croydon, where two teenagers have been killed in recent months, every single youth organisation is reporting increasing anxiety and trauma from the young people they work with.

So why is it getting worse? Police cuts are a major issue of course, but we can’t arrest ourselves out of this problem.

We brought young people to parliament last week to meet MPs and talk about their experiences of knife crime. The issues go deep – from mental health to social media, from poverty to fashion. Deterrents and punishments are important of course, but they aren’t the only answer to tackling this in the long term.

Youth centres are closing and schools are under huge pressure, leading to the “managed moves” of difficult children – often regardless of undiagnosed special needs. Youth workers regularly talk about the “PRU to prison pipeline” of disengaged young people in pupil referral units getting into a cycle of trouble.

Social media is having a big impact, intensifying the cycle of violence and enabling widespread bullying. Many people want to see technology companies take more responsibility for how their platforms are used, but we also need to look at the channels collating and sharing inappropriate content.

What do we need to do to turn this around? First we need to recognise that this is a public health crisis. For too long we’ve been focused on the symptoms – we need to look at the causes, not just the crime. We need a cross-government programme of action with multiple departments and long-term ambitions. Five months ago, the prime minister promised me action – but she has yet to deliver anything meaningful. On Wednesday in prime minister’s questions I called again for government intervention. To place youth workers in all major trauma centres in England would cost as little as £6m a year. These interventions are proven to be highly effective at taking young people out of the cycle of violence.

I know from experience how important this is. My local police force saved the life of a young man, putting their fingers into stab wounds in his neck to stop the flow of blood. A week later he was caught on the streets with a stab vest and a knife, looking for revenge. And of course, the justice system is important here. There is more to be done in banning certain horrific knives, improving the use of electronic tagging and cracking down on moped crime, reflecting the changing nature of crime.

But ultimately we need to treat this as an epidemic and cut it off at source. Violence breeds violence. Mental health, social media, youth services, education and poverty are all part of the problem and we need to decide if we care enough to act. How much do we really value these young lives?

Sarah Jones is Labour MP for Croydon Central and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime