Teenage knife crime calls for cohesion and education

Man holding knife

 ‘The excluded teenager is just a step away from the gang membership that will help give them a sense of identity,’ say Ingrid Schoon and John Bynner. Photograph: Alan Simpson/PA

Gary Younge’s questioning whether the solution to teenage knife crime lies in increasing police numbers is welcome recognition of the more complex reasons for the actions causing it (Teenagers are being killed. More policing is not the answer, Journal, 7 March).

Disadvantaged young people have suffered a succession of austerity measures dating back to 2010, including decimated youth services, reduced mental health resources, reductions in support for care leavers and extensive cuts in educational provision, especially in secondary and further education.

The consequence is a long tail of low achievers in secondary school and rising rates of school exclusion in a system where schools are free to exclude children likely to damage their prospects of high test performance and top Oftsed grading. The excluded teenager is just a step away from the gang membership that will help give them a sense of identity, while nurturing anger and resentment.

New strategies are needed to reverse such processes; the Scottish public health approach in achieving a reversal of trends in teenage knife crime could be usefully replicated in England. Intensified stop and search is dispensed with, in favour of new support structures based on collaboration between health professionals, law enforcement, social services and third-sector organisations to thwart violent behaviour.

The aim is to enable young people to participate in society and create opportunities for fulfilling activities, where they can experience a sense of belonging and see that their concerns matter. Central to the strategy is the prospect of viable employment, enabling them to earn a living and to develop a positive outlook on the future and engagement with citizenship. Not too much to ask.
Ingrid Schoon Professor of human development and social policy, UCL Institute of Education
John Bynner Emeritus professor of social sciences in education, UCL Institute of Education

 Gary Younge is right. Ending the ongoing tragedy of young people killing each other is about both the police and the local communities, but mainly about undoing the impacts of government policy.

I helped put together the Stevenage Youth Workshop in 1975 to support a young gang as they returned from borstal after serving their time for a gang fight in which there had been a murder. Crucial differences in policy then compared with now helped rehabilitate some of them back into useful employment.

We had a thriving and well-funded youth centre, which housed the workshop, local government with a generous spirit and the funds to match, a functioning probation service, and a jobcentre that allowed them to keep their benefits so long as they were at the workshop. The single adult benefit was then 21% of average earnings; it is now 10.5% and virtually worthless. There were no benefit sanctions. They were never left on the streets with no money. We were making and delivering a generous order for a simple wooden toy for schools, paid for before delivery. Local industry had provided the tools for free and a supervisor. If they worked well for us they got a reference for a proper job.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

 Your editorial (The rising number of teenage stab victims shames May’s government, 6 March) is right to underline the need for youth services to be scaled back up. Such contemporary youth services need to be wide ranging in scope, including deploying youth workers on the streets as well as offering young people safe places to go, engaging activities to take part in and the ready availability of skilled, trusted adults with whom to address their hopes and fears. Where in government now lies the responsibility for ensuring the implementation of such a coordinated youth policy? As with policing, rebuilding youth services is not a panacea but should be an important element in a comprehensive, localised approach.
Tom Wylie
Former CEO, National Youth Agency

 I agree with Sonia Sodha that excluding children from school is an important factor in knife crime, but the alternative is even worse (Kicking kids out of school makes knife crime worse, Journal, 8 March). Pupils are only excluded if they are unteachable in a normal school setting. Keeping them in mainstream schooling severely disrupts the education of the majority and produces even more disaffected, angry and gang-prone young people. One long-term solution to knife crime is educated, employable adolescents, and to this end parents must accept more of the responsibility for guiding their children.


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