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A series of recent attacks highlights the pressing need to clamp down on knife crime

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But is more policing really the only option?

During what was the hottest British evening in months, scores of people were enjoying sitting together in a park after many weeks of lockdown. What should have been the perfect setting for relaxation swiftly turned into panic as a group of masked men, armed with “foot-long zombie knifes and poles”, chased and stabbed a teenager in broad daylight in London’s Hyde Park.

If there is one epidemic that lockdown hasn’t prevented, it is knife crime in Britain. This June, a 14-year-old boy was killed on a main road in north Birmingham, just one of several young people to have lost their lives to knife crime this year in the West Midlands.
When Sadiq Khan celebrated winning a new mayoral term last month, a majority of Londoners affirmed that tackling the scourge of knife-crime in the capital should be his number one priority. Studies from the ONS suggest that knife crime in London has risen 60 per cent in the last five years.

Though all crimes recorded by police in England and Wales fell 8% in 2020 – as lockdowns have curtailed the number of people on the streets – the Metropolitan Police have issued an ominous warning that the lifting of restrictions could result in knife crime spiking again. The resurgence of this old variant is surely something we can all agree must be stamped out permanently.

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The re-elected London Mayor has called on the government to provide an additional £159 million a year for the Metropolitan Police’s crime budget, catering for 20,000 new officers nationwide and an additional 6,000 in London alone.

In addition to increased pressure on the state, there is growing pushback from civic societies and the charitable sector, with many organisations acting on their belief that money is better spent on schemes designed to incentivise young people to channel their energies, increasing their own offers to help vulnerable young resist the gravitational pull of destructive gang culture.

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A well-known example is the Ben Kinsella Trust, founded in memory of sixteen-year-old Ben Kinsella who was stabbed to death in June 2008. The charity focuses on tackling knife crime through education and campaigning, offering workshops to change young people’s attitudes to knife crime which emphasise the importance of peer values – to encourage young people to support each other and challenge peers who are thinking of carrying a knife.

A new charity focusing on the problem from a community perspective is the Nick Maughan Foundation. Founded by the British investor and philanthropist Nick Maughan, ‘NMF’ as it is known helps fund and run youth organisations dedicated to help young people make successful transitions to adulthood. Its ambition is to help plug the gap left by more than £500m worth of cuts to the national youth work budget since 2011.

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NMF’s flagship initiative is BOXWISE, a non-profit social enterprise centred around boxing classes which helps young people acquire life skills through training and confidence building programmes, as well as providing routes to employment. Having launched in London earlier this year, the scheme intends to partner with schools and other youth groups before expanding across the country.

“Young people across the country have had an especially difficult time over the course of the past year, having lost a fundamental sense of structure in their personal and educational lives. Maintaining a structure and strong sense of purpose in life are essential to wellbeing, and BOXWISE is working to provide that”, says Maughan.

NMF is also a major donor to the Berkshire Youth Trust, a charity that prioritises a preventive strategy towards youth support, targeting young people who are likely to miss out because they are not yet in crisis or face other barriers to access such as mental health challenges, caring responsibilities or low self-esteem and self-confidence. The Trust is set to open the first of its ‘Inspired Facilities’ – youth centres designed to provide extra-curricular safe havens for vulnerable young people – in Newbury this summer.

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Many more organisations are following this route, placing an emphasis education, skills training and community building. Lives Not Knives, a charity which started as an awareness campaign in 2007, today spreads its message through school roadshows, workshops and summer programmes to explain the factors that lead to knife crime and routes through which young people can avoid stepping onto the slippery slope towards gang culture.

A similar initiative has been launched just this week, in the form of a new website set up by one of Britain’s top criminal barristers, retired QC Bruce Houlder. Houlder set up www.fightingknifecrime.london to offer a constructive area for collaboration for anyone seeking or offering help to disaffected people across London. The project focuses on youth engagement, mentoring, mental health support and skills training as the effective tools vulnerable young people need to avoid being lured into a life involving violent crime.

The British public is arguably more united on the subject of knife crime than any other. The question lies only in the best method to stamp it out. More and better policing is only one side to the equation. Without the education and community infrastructures in place to deter young people from going down the wrong path, we will fail to change our society’s ultimate destination.

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