Thank you Deputy Lord Mayor…

At yesterday’s full council meeting a motion about knife crime was put forward by the Conservative Group.  Councillor Cotton and I were due to be moving an amendment to the motion but unfortunately we were only given the opportunity to do so formerly which meant we could not provide a challenge to what had already been said.

I have a lot of respect for Cllr Yip’s passion for young people and would have welcomed the spirit of his motion. I would have particularly welcomed the chance for debate.

Knife crime is a serious issue and I would have agreed with him that there is much more that needs to be done. But I do have problems with his motion and the fact that it was focused on the ‘welcome action taken by the Government’ and refused to recognise how young people have been systematically let down by his government. He accused us of politicising the issue. I would have pointed out the political neglect by his government.

The motion recognised that more needs to be done both in the short and longer term to get knives and violence off our city’s streets and called for more powers to restrict knife sales and more sustainable funding solutions to enable an increase in police numbers. All good.

But, at the same time, the link between fewer police officers on our streets and the increase in violent crime was totally refuted. This denial mirrored in the government’s serious violence strategy despite a leaked Home Office document suggesting that budget cuts had “likely contributed” to rising violence and “encouraged” offenders.

I didn’t get the chance to speak but I would have pointed out that the crisis we are facing reflects a deeper and much broader societal malaise which has been exacerbated by austerity. The tragedy where we see young people killing other young people, often reported as ‘gang related’ – a catch-all description designed to apportion blame and perpetuate a government agenda which ignores the material reasons why young people are carrying a knife in the first place. Violence is symptomatic of the social inequality and feeling of exclusion in our society.

Nearly 60 years ago, it was a conservative government who recognised that young people needed investment in services that would support and nurture them. This led to the Albermarle Report which highlighted the need for early intervention and prevention and believed that this provision should be available to all young people. This led to the creation of a universal youth service.

Fast forward to the present day – and it is a conservative government who has overseen the near destruction of services for young people across England and Wales with youth services, delivered both by local government and the voluntary sector, now facing the biggest funding crisis for generations.

Spending on ‘youth services’ has been cut by nearly £750m since 2010-11 – it is then no wonder that young people have been left feeling excluded and at odds with society.

Without drastic action by government to invest in youth provision by making youth services a statutory service, they are further condemning young people to becoming a lonely, lost generation with nowhere to turn.

The motion also talked about a new legal duty to underpin its new public health approach and I would have raised the concerns already being cited by trade unions and the workers that they represent. We cannot allow government to wash its hands of responsibility, instead laying blame at the feet of frontline workers, teachers, youth workers, health workers and other professionals for failing to spot violent crime among young people.

The Conservative motion was very long. It raised a lot of points and in response our amendment was long. In fact I really don’t think I would have been able to fit everything I wanted to say in the 4 minutes I should have been allocated.

Whilst the motion and our amendment welcomed inclusion of knife prevention orders into the Offensive Weapons Bill, I would have raised the need now for a pause for thought. In the hurry to calm public anxiety, I don’t believe that the Home Office consulted as widely as they should or could have done. I think if they had consulted youth offending teams, youth workers and those who work directly with young people they may have ended up in a different place. It is vital that sufficient safeguards are built into the proposed legislation to ensure that the full circumstances of any young person are taken into account by the police and by the court before an order is applied for or imposed. These orders must not result in the criminalisation of young people who might themselves be victims of criminal exploitation.

The rise in knife crime is a serious problem that needs serious long term solutions and cannot be solved with knee jerk reactions and hastily drawn up legislation. There are many factors that contribute to the rise in knife crime including poverty and the lack of opportunity.  And austerity.

Austerity is not over and it continues to have a huge impact on public services, the education of future generations and the NHS. Austerity is not working, this clear to see  as the national debt continues to grow. Something else denied by Cllr Yip.

I believe that although the motion was well intended, it chose to ignore some of the hard to swallow consequences of government policy. It also failed to accept responsibility for the devastating effects of austerity on public services and on the lives of those now living in poverty in our city.

Knife crime is a serious problem. It is a social problem – its causes, not its symptoms, must be treated, and austerity, a deliberate political choice, is one of its causes. Austerity has consequences. It abrogates the responsibility to care for, to nurture and to lead children and young people into positive lifestyles. Government needs to invest in young people and need to ensure that local communities have positive services and activities for young people. It needs to legislate for a statutory youth service – a universal offer for all young people. Engaging with young people is sustainable and productive. Imposing interventions on children and young people is short-term and destructive. Young people must be part of the solution to knife crime, not part of the problem.

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