Tackling youth violence

Work with Offenders examines a major new report from a three year inquiry

Tomorrow sees the launch of a major new report from the Youth Violence Commission. The Commission was established by Vicky Foxcroft, the Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford in 2016 after seeing several young people from her constituency lose their lives to youth violence in her first few months as an MP. She brought together Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, academics and sector experts in a bid to identify the root causes of youth violence and propose how policymakers should move forwards.

The report was originally finished in early spring and scheduled for launch in March. However, that launch was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and the report has been updated in the light of COVID-19.

The cause of youth violence

The Commission is keen to emphasise that the precise causes of any two incidents of serious violence is never exactly the same but that there are a number of significant factors which increase the likelihood of young people committing – or being subjected to – serious violence. These include:

  • Many of those who committed serious acts of violence had often been subjected to or witnessed domestic violence as children.
  • A remarkably high proportion of young people involved in serious violence have been excluded from mainstream education.
  • Very many youth focused organisations have closed over recent years owing to funding cuts.
  • Similarly, cuts to police office numbers have led to a sharp decline in neighbourhood policing, eroding trust between communities and the police and making it harder for police to gather intelligence on local gangs.

The economic and social cost of violence

Serious youth violence across England and Wales generated a total economic and social cost of £1.3 billion in 2018/19, representing a rise of over 50% compared to the  2014/15 figure.

Of course these economic costs do not include the devastating personal and social costs to so many individuals and communities affected by youth violence including the children who have tragically had their lives cut short and their bereaved families and friends.

A public health approach and violence reduction units

The Commission commends the public health approach and violence reduction units recently endorsed by the government and advocates that all such units should involve three main stages:

  1. Understanding the nature of the problem by gathering and analysing sufficient data;
  2. Doing what works by developing and implementing policies and interventions informed by the best available theory, data (interpreted broadly to include, for example, the experiences and views of young people and frontline practitioners), and analysis; and
  3. Learning from experience by robustly evaluating and subsequently improving these policies and interventions.

The Commission calls for a long-term strategic approach which should not be disrupted by local or central government elections.

Recommendations

The report concludes by making a strong recommendation that the government continues its public health approach to reducing serious violence and makes a long-term commitment to funding violence reduction units. It also makes a number of other recommendations including:

  • Using the planned increase in police recruitment to underpin significant reinvestment in local neighbourhood policing.
  • Significant and immediate increased funding to enable schools to put in place the enhanced support necessary to stop excluding and “off-rolling” vulnerable children who are consequently likely to be involved in serious violence – both as perpetrators and victims.
  • Re-investment in high quality youth services.
  • Investment in programmes which help prepare parents for parenthood and provide support in the early years of parenting.