Whilst members of parliament in Westminster struggle to agree a way ahead in more than two years of Brexit negotiations with Brussels, people in the UK are losing their lives, due to a rise in deadly knife crime. Last year the Office for National Statistics reported that in England and Wales there were “42,957 knife or sharp instrument offences.” (1)
Knives that are being carried and used as weapons on the streets is not a problem that is confined to the crowded metropolis of London. Today a police officer on the east coast of England described the current situation that the force encounters on a daily basis as “a very serious problem that is difficult to control.”
In 2018 there was an “8% increase in the number of police recorded offences involving knives or sharp instruments. There was also “a 15% increase in the number of admissions to hospital in England for assaults involving a sharp instrument.” (1)
Small knives are on sale for purchase for cooking and home improvement purposes at many high street retailers and available to anyone over the age of eighteen. Any blade over 3 inches long is illegal to carry in the UK unless you have a good reason, for example if you are a chef carrying your tools to work.
“The maximum penalty for an adult carrying a knife is 4 years in prison and an unlimited fine. You’ll get a prison sentence if you’re convicted of carrying a knife more than once.” (2) the official UK government website states clearly.
The causes of knife crime in society are complex and the result of many different factors creating a ‘perfect storm’. Regional gangs of men and women can compete for being in control of their territory and then knife related violence can erupt as a result.
When organised gangs deal drugs in specific areas it can create a situation where young people (who cannot be prosecuted and imprisoned as severely as adults can) are drawn into the conflict inadvertently. These youngsters can be used to deliver drugs to more rural areas they do not previously have any connection with in order to fulfil drug dealers sales objectives. “Thousands of children used as drug mules by ‘county lines’ gangs..” reports The Independent. (3)
People living in areas where there has been violence on the streets previously, may be tempted to carry a knife in order to protect themselves if they are mugged or attacked unexpectedly. This creates a ‘vicious circle’ scenario. Disagreements between locals that in previous generations would have often been settled with angry words and then both parties might walk away or possibly there could have been a punch thrown or bit of hand fighting. Now bitter exchanges can escalate into life threateningly aggressive situations within just seconds.
There is more pressure on young people than ever before to live up to and maintain their ‘tough urban image’ which is increasingly more important to them because of the part social media plays in their lives. Sites like facebook, twitter and instagram mean mobile phone footage of any arguments can be videoed and streamed in ‘real time’ tempting some citizens to behave like they are the gangsters in a movie.
Lack of police officers on the streets is blamed for creating a culture where some people fear they will have to protect themselves when they are out walking along in their neighbourhoods where they do not always feel safe. Some members of the public think they will be able to get away with breaking the law as there is nobody around to stop them.
“Cuts of about 20 per cent in police budgets have led to a loss of nearly 20,000 officers across the country in the past seven years.”
There has also been a big reduction in council funding for services like youth clubs due to the economic budgets of austerity since 2008. Mental health services are widely reported as a postcode lottery. Police forces and health professionals with cash strapped NHS resources are often left to pick up the pieces when individuals loose their way in life and get caught up in a violent lifestyle.
Improving access and funding for technical, further and higher education and sports programmes are key to diverting future problems and preventing folk breaking the law. Keeping those in the community who are vulnerable away from harmful influences and criminals is vital to stem the flow of kids growing up and getting involved with a badly behaved and dangerous groups.
Gary Young a specialist on youth crime in England writing for the Guardian sites describes “a series of social challenges beyond the crime itself: mental health, school exclusions, poverty or unemployment that make the susceptibility to violence – either as a victim or a perpetrator – more likely. By the time the criminal justice system intervenes, it is really adjudicating a crisis that has been created elsewhere.”
Broad brush strategic politics is at the forefront of our minds at this crossroads in our countries history. We must also continue to take a holistic approach to creating a society that encourages healthy living and positive behaviour for everyone. We urgently require extra funding for more police in towns to produce an environment where we all feel safe in the place we live. Whatever their background the younger generation all need to be connected to training schemes to develop their skills and hopes of a bright future in employment.
(1) ‘Crime in England and Wales: year ending September 2018’ Office for National Statistics Meghan Elkin 24 Jan 2019 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingseptember2018
(2) ‘Selling, buying, carrying knives’ Gov.uk official UK government website 29 Jan 2019 https://www.gov.uk/buying-carrying-knives
(3)’Thousands of children used as drug mules by ‘county lines’ gangs expanding into rural parts of UK.” Lizzie Dearden, Home Affairs Correspondent, The Independent 28 Nov 2017 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/children-drug-mules-uk-thousands-county-lines-gangs-vulnerable-expanding-rural-britain-seaside-a8080001.html
(4)’Why England is facing a rising tide of knife crime’ Helen Warrell, Public Policy Correspondent The Financial Times, 20 Nov 2018 https://www.ft.com/content/0a4166b8-e8ef-11e8-a34c-663b3f553b35
(5) ‘The radical lessons of a year reporting on knife crime’ Gary Younge, The Guardian, 21 Jun 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2018/jun/21/radical-lessons-knife-crime-beyond-the-blade