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Austerity and rising crime – it’s hard not to make the link

28 September, 2018

IS there a link between austerity and the deadly surge in knife crime in the capital? This may sound prosaic or politically partisan but the 10 years of austerity since the financial collapse in 2008 are undeniably matched by a growth of crime statistics that is beginning to cause near panic in governing circles.

Fewer police on the streets, closed police stations, shrinking youth facilities, all of this cannot but help make things worse.

After years of tinkering with the problem, and aware of the success of Glasgow’s “public health approach”, that is tackling the social causes of crime – the roots, not the end results – London Mayor Sadiq Khan has taken what is hopefully the first step in dealing with the underlying causes (‘Get realistic!’ Sadiq Khan told his new knife crime unit needs more funding).

But his investment of £500,000 in a “violence reduction unit” is hardly adequate. If he is serious about dealing with the social causes he would need to spend several million pounds in as big an urban area as London.

Here in Camden, the council has shown the way by spending in one borough the same amount the London Mayor has allocated for the whole capital. Moreover, this week Camden has also published a detailed, 32-page report on the causes of knife violence. Dark corners are illuminated: the drugs trade, the well known Camden drugs market, grooming by dealers, and especially the early causes – poor attendance at schools and exclusions.

There does appear here some overlap between the work by the Youth Safety Task Force, which has produced this report, and another recent report on young people which we criticised for its inadequate research into exclusions. It simply stated that exclusions last year reached nearly 1,000 without any breakdown of what that number meant.

In the Task Force report exclusions are given their proper weight with an admission that school exclusions was “a recurring topic” in conversations with, for instance, the Somali community.

More should be done to keep Somalian children at school – parents claimed they are disproportionately excluded.

Here we are beginning to get to grips with the social causes of crime. A focus group is quoted as saying that more should be done to keep them in “mainstream education”.

Sensibly, the report refuses to deal in “absolutes” – the causes of youth violence are complex. But it is difficult to ignore the link between the evisceration of council services in the past few years and the rise in crime.

As if to illustrate this point, the report includes an account of a parent saying that violence against his son began after the job of a sports coach had been cut: “I feel like I was the only one who made the connection,” said the parent.

• Pictured above: MP Keir Starmer, Cllr Abdul Hai and Cllr Georgia Gould at the launch of the Youth Safety Task Force report

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