By Luke Wakeling
Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May attended the Serious Youth Violence Summit held in response to rising youth violence in the UK. The meeting in Downing Street came after the Government announced that teachers and NHS staff may soon be responsible for spotting and legally obligated to report violence and criminal behaviour amongst young people.
Knife crime in the UK has recently surged to record levels, and May come under criticism for claiming there is “no direct correlation” between the rise in youth violence and police funding cuts; “we cannot simply arrest ourselves out of this problem”, she states. Instead, she proposed that a greater “cooperated long-term” effort from numerous bodies is needed to tackle the calamitous issue which saw 285 fatal stabbings in England and Wales in 2018.
The PM opened the event by pointing out that “in recent months we’ve seen an appalling number of young lives cut short or devastated by serious violent crime, including a number of [recent] horrifying incidents.
“In many cases, the perpetrators of these crimes are as young as their victims and this is something that has to be of deep concern to us all.”
Police have argued that there are a number of factors which have contributed to the rise in youth violence, including cuts to youth services, the growth of drug gang culture and provocations on social media.
Under new provisions proposed by the government, teachers and NHS staff could soon be held accountable for failing to recognise potential victims and perpetrators of youth violence. The Government says that staff should be on the lookout for key telltale signs, including a suspect “presenting [themselves] in A&E with a suspicious injury” or exhibiting “worrying behaviour at school”.
However, this new proposal has not been met well by trade unionists who have responded by arguing that this merely shifts the blame towards others and distracts the public from cuts in police funding. They worry that teachers and NHS staff, who are already under occupational pressures, will carry the blame for increasing knife crime and be made “scapegoats”, and that the move will place greater pressure on frontline staff whilst deterring young people involved in or at risk of violence from seeking help.
Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, granted police with increased stop and search powers a day before the summit in light of four unprovoked stabbings the previous weekend. Javid stated, “violent crime is like a disease rotting our society and it’s essential that all public bodies work together to treat the root causes.
“The public health, multi-agency approach has a proven track record and I’m confident that making it a legal duty will help stop this senseless violence and create long-term change.”
With a rise in youth violence being documented not only in London but throughout the UK, it is inevitable that the Government must take action sooner rather than later, not only to prevent youth crime but also to protect citizens. However, will giving teaching and NHS staff a legal obligation to identify perpetrators of youth crime result in them becoming “scapegoats” to distract from police funding cuts, or will devolving youth crime prevention tactics to local communities increase the ability to safeguard young people from violence?