Johnson should make tackling youth violence a priority to save lives, MPs urge

Getting a grip on serious youth violence could save lives and the new Government should make it a priority, a new report has urged.

The Home Affairs Select Committee has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take a lead on tackling violence by appointing an “accountable leader” in every local area reporting directly to him.

As part of its inquiry looking at serious violence, the MPs heard evidence which showed that the number of under-18s admitted to hospital with knife injuries rose by a third between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

The chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper, said the Government’s current approach has not “risen to the scale of the problem”.

She said: “Teenagers are dying on our streets, and yet our inquiry has found that the Government’s response to the rise in serious youth violence is completely inadequate.”

The senior Labour MP added: “There are no clear targets or milestones, and no mechanisms to drive progress. To publish a weak strategy and convene a few roundtable discussions just isn’t enough when faced with youth violence on this scale.

“The Home Office has shamefully taken a hands-off approach to this crisis, but it is a national emergency and must be treated like one.

“They need to get a grip.

“Serious violence has got worse after a perfect storm of youth service cuts, police cuts, more children being excluded from school and a failure of statutory agencies to keep them safe.

“The Government has a responsibility to deal with this crisis urgently.”

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Yvette Cooper says the Government must urgently deal with the ‘crisis’ in youth violence (PA)

The committee’s report calls the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy a “completely inadequate response” to increasing levels of violence and stressed that urgent action is needed to tackle county lines gangs – including stronger local safeguarding plans.

The report also calls for a major investment in local youth services and prevention work – including a new “Youth Service Guarantee” and “substantial” additional resources for policing.

Schools in areas with an above-average risk of youth violence should have dedicated police officers, the report states, and schools should work to reduce the growing number of exclusions.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The committee’s assessment fails to recognise the full range of urgent action the Government is taking to keep our communities safe – including extra police powers and resources.

“The Prime Minister and Home Secretary last week announced the recruitment of 20,000 more officers and a new national policing board, which will meet for the first time today (Wednesday), to drive the response to critical issues including serious violence.

“Police funding is increasing by more than £1 billion this year, including council tax and £100 million for forces worst affected by violent crime.

“We have made it simpler for officers to use stop and search, and our Offensive Weapons Act will stop knives making their way onto our streets in the first place.”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “The new Prime Minister and Home Secretary must show their commitment to tackling youth violence.

“That will require more than summits and meetings. We need a large-scale and long-term plan that includes a new generation of youth workers, more investment in early years and troubled families programmes, better children’s mental health services, a strategy to tackle school exclusions and keeping schools open for longer to help protect some of the most vulnerable children.

“Too many families and communities are being wrecked and too many childhoods broken by the scourge of gangs and criminal exploitation.

“Until the Government treats this as a top priority, young people will continue to be caught up in gangs and serious violence, and children will continue to die on our streets.”

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