We are seeing troubling levels of violent crime across our country. One hundred lives have already been lost to knife attacks in the UK so far this year with thirty of the victims from the capital. Whilst knife injuries for those under 25 in London were down 15% in 2019 compared to the previous year, far too many young people are suffering.
I recently visited the mother of a young man stabbed on the streets of Brent. I listened to the pain in her family. I listened to the confusion in her voice. Why had this happened? Her son she insisted was not into gangs or drugs or crime. So why? How had this been allowed to happen?
Above all she wanted to know what I was going to do about it. She knew all about the Tory cuts. The 21,000 police officers that have disappeared from our streets. But for her, quite rightly, it was simply not good enough for politicians to blame each other. She wanted solutions — not excuses.
As an opposition MP I sadly do not have the power to change either the budget or the law. I can challenge ministers and table amendments, but without a majority in the House of Commons the opposition has no power in parliament to make the changes that are so necessary.
Of course I have written to the Policing Minister demanding that he secure the necessary resources to keep my constituents safe. Of course I have worked with Sadiq Khan and his team at the Mayor’s office to secure the extra £110 million he has delivered from his budget for police to tackle knife crime on our streets. But I know, just as that young lad’s mother knows: You cannot simply arrest your way out of this crisis.
That is why in the Labour Party we have said knife crime must be treated not just as a police matter, but as the much wider social and public health issue that it is. London’s new Violence Reduction Unit, set up by the Mayor has invested £6.8 million into this approach bringing together specialists in health, police, local government, probation and community organisations to tackle violent crime together.
Brent too is adopting this approach. But it is struggling as the government has cut its funding by 79% in 10 years. Nationally that same austerity program has led to the closure of 760 youth centres. This is despite a recent report in parliament finding that the areas suffering the largest cuts to youth spending have seen bigger increases in knife crime.
In Brent North, we lost the last dedicated youth centre in 2016 and are now left with one youth centre to serve the entire borough of Brent. The truth is young people need a safe place away from the streets. But it is important to understand that with only 21% of its previous funding, this decision is being imposed not by the Council but by the Government’s austerity obsession.
I have met with the Acting Borough Commander. We have discussed containment strategies. I have pointed out areas that require additional patrol and enforcement. But we need all agencies to work together.
Far too many lives are being lost. Far too many communities are being shattered. I do not want to have to visit any more grieving families. That is why I will continue to work to bring all stakeholders together to keep our young people in Brent safe.