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What young people say about knife crime

Published on
08 August 2019

Too many young lives are being ended too soon as a result of an epidemic of serious violence sweeping many of our cities.  

You're likely to have seen the headlines and heard discussion about it in the media.

You're less likely to have seen or heard from young people who've directly been affected by this. Are we guilty of talking over them? Do we really know how they feel about it?

Our policy team has been supporting the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime since September 2017. The group brings together MPs, young people as well as education, police, health and social care professionals and representatives from the voluntary sector  to talk about knife crime.

One session brought together 16 young people from across England and Wales. They've all been affected by knife crime in some way.

We wanted their perspectives on knife crime - this is what they said.

When you step out your house, it feels like you might have to defend yourself. It’s a sad world we live in, init?

Many of us will struggle with this simple question: why do some young people feel the need to carry a knife? Sadly, for the young people we spoke to, this was simply because they did not feel safe or protected by anything (or anyone) else.

Young person wearing headphones on the street at night

The mainstream conversation around knife crime can sometimes demonise young people as "thugs" who are out to do no good, and omits this hard truth - children can be afraid of the society they live in. And we know that this fear will be compounded if they are seeing and hearing others around them becoming victims of knife crime. Add to this a potential lack of faith in the police's ability to protect, and you begin to see how alone and vulnerable some of these young people might feel.

In some cases, the decision to carry a knife can be made without any intention or expectation to use it.

You know they are not carrying the knife to use it, just carrying it so it's a confidence thing. It boosts you up and I feel like, alright, I'm safe because if someone comes to me I have this.

Young people also spoke out against the media perpetuating the myth that the streets are not a safe place to be - this vast generalisation can lead some to assume they’d be at a disadvantage if they do not carry a weapon to protect themselves.

If we are to tackle knife crime as a society, making young people feel safe and protected is vital.

People my age haven't got anything to do… if you don't go to school or you are not in any education, you are on the streets doing what you want to do and nothing is stopping you from doing that.

Young people told us how those who became involved in youth crime often felt that school did not do enough to support them. Too frequently, those on the fringes of trouble seem to find themselves temporarily or permanently excluded from school. Rather than providing them with hope for the future, this means they have more time to get into trouble.

Young people spoke of a sense that in the communities they live there are few opportunities. They spoke of high levels of unemployment and a gap in understanding between those in power and those who were living with the realities of poverty and deprivation. One young person explained it like this: "...people in the government...high up people… their kids don't go to the local schools or colleges, do you know what I mean? What if everyone was to invest the same amount of ambition in all kids?"

But things can get better if we invest in services and opportunities to help young people find alternative opportunities.  One young person we spoke to explained how one such initiative in their local area has really helped them.

I did a motorbike course - learning how to ride a ped and fix one up and everything and that kept me off the streets because it's something for me to do. I think that more money needs to be put into that.

It ties in with a point raised by many young people: in order to prevent further knife crime, they need to have access to alternative opportunities to gain skills and take part in activities.

Young person working on mechanics

Community resources are central to this. We know from our work that some resources for children are dangerously underfunded; From a freedom of information request by the APPG on knife crime, that of those local authorities that responded there had been a 40% cut in funding of youth work over the last three years and 87% of councils have shut at least one youth centre since 2011. In order to tackle knife crime, our Government must increase the funding for these vital services.

A case of public health

Some talk about the need to treat knife crime as a health issue rather than a criminal one. It’s worked previously - Glasgow was branded the murder capital of Europe by the World Health Organisation in 2005; but between 2005-6 and 2016-17, hospital admittances for stab wounds fell by 65%. How did they do this?

Everyone got involved. It wasn't down to one particular group to provide a solution, but it was on everyone to listen to those at the core of the issue - health, education,social workers, third sector, police and youth justice. Often the conversation around knife crime centres on the number of police on the streets, but our work through the All-Party Parliamentary Group suggests it's not as clear-cut as this. 

We all have a part to play.

Our part

In Newport, South Wales, we work in partnership to provide specialist one-to-one support to young people aged 11 to 16 who are at risk of getting caught up in gang culture and serious and organised crime. Our aim is to divert young people away from crime by providing them with a personal project worker they can trust and who will work with the whole family to create a more positive home life. Our workers develop strong relationships with the young people, becoming trusted adults who can help to recognise positive alternative life paths.

We're also vocal in calling on the Government to properly fund services to help children and young people. We’re working with Action For Children, Children's Society, NCB and NSPCC to have the Government agree to fund services to address the £3bn shortfall in funding - this is how much it'll cost to plug the gap until 2025.

Both sides

One thing is clear: there is no solution to this that will be found in perpetuating the one-sided narrative of young killers on the streets. In many cases, these are children who are frightened and feel alone.

It’s also our duty to point out that it's factually incorrect to portray young people as the only perpetrators of knife crime. In the year ending September 2018, only 21% of those found in possession of a knife or offensive weapon were under the age of 18.

Importantly, we must remember this: nothing would mean a young person would deserve any harm - regardless of the circumstances or their experience of knife crime.

Our society's young people are scared. It's on us all to work together to make them feel safe.

Read the full report from the APPG and learn more about our work to support young people

Models have been used in order to protect the privacy of the young people.