Funding cuts to “life-saving” public services have fuelled an “epidemic” of knife crime, Parliament’s Youth Select Committee has warned.
In a new report, the committee of teenagers aged 16 to 18 said inequality and differing opportunities for some young people made them “vulnerable to the draw of violence and gangs”.
They said the scale of the problem means many young people feel “so afraid” they believe “carrying a knife is the only way to prevent themselves being stabbed”.
The report – Our Generation’s Epidemic: Knife Crime – was launched in the House of Commons on Wednesday, and criticised the “limited interventions” available for youth violence.
It welcomed the Government’s adoption of a “public health approach” to the issue, but questioned its commitment to improving the “difficult circumstances” some young people face.
The committee, which mimics the model used by MPs, called on the Government to guarantee funding for at least five years to support youth services.
The report concluded: “Cuts to important and arguably life-saving services such as community police officers, youth community groups, health and education services means that the support previously in place for vulnerable young people has been weakened or in some cases completely removed.
“We believe that this is a fundamental cause of the rise in violent crime, including knife crime, amongst young people.”
It said “current limited interventions” for youth violence would only “remedy the symptoms but never the causes of knife crime”, with action needed to “address the damaging inequalities in our communities”.
The committee’s focus on knife crime came after a nationwide poll of more than a million young people in 2018 revealed it was their top concern.
According to the report, the 285 fatal stabbings in England and Wales in the year ending March 2018 was the highest since records began in 1946.
It's not just young people, it's the families. Parents are scared, they don't really know whether their child is involved in this kind of thing or what they can do to helpYouth select committee chairwoman Rachel Ojo
During its inquiry the committee heard that young people excluded from school, living in poverty or with mental health issues or learning difficulties were more vulnerable to involvement in knife crime.
The report referenced research by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime that suggested areas with the largest cuts to youth services had seen bigger increases in knife crime.
The £51 million package of measures in the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy amounted to “around an eighth of the total cuts to youth services since 2010″, the committee was told.
It rejected suggestions that music, social media and popular culture were to blame for knife crime.
But it acknowledged social media can be used to “intimidate and threaten” and called for more research.
The committee said it was “extremely concerned” by the Government’s “punitive” approach to knife crime, suggesting it was undermining trust in the police.
It said an extension of stop and search powers should be rolled back until the “disproportionate” targeting of black males was addressed, while short custodial sentences for carrying knives and school exclusions should be “an absolute last resort”.
The report said the next version of the Serious Violence Strategy should focus on restorative justice and be informed by role models beyond the “narrow and stereotypical” examples of rappers and athletes.
A large number of the additional 20,000 police officers to be recruited over the next three years should become safety officers in schools and join neighbourhood policing, the report said.
Committee chairwoman Rachel Ojo, from Basildon in Essex, said knife crime left many young people feeling “scared”.
“It’s not just young people, it’s the families. Parents are scared, they don’t really know whether their child is involved in this kind of thing or what they can do to help” the 17-year-old added.
She said a “stigma” has arisen around young people being portrayed negatively in the media, arguing they should be listened to.
“Young people need to actively be part of the solution,” she said.
A Government spokesman said it was “taking urgent action to tackle the scourge of serious violence”.
This included recruiting 20,000 extra police officers and investing in Violence Reduction Units and early intervention projects “to steer young people away from knife crime”.
He added: “We are also changing the law so that police, councils and health authorities are legally required to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence.”