Comment

Investment needed to tackle youth violence

Janet Matthewson says an actor’s strong message young people’s futures needs to be heeded

Headshot of the actor Idris Elba
“Idris Elba-4764 (cropped)” by Harald Krichel is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The actor Idris Elba is spearheading a new campaign calling for immediate action to address youth violence through increased funding for youth services, urgently advocating for immediate measures to combat the problem.

Launching the “Don’t Stop Your Future” campaign in January in central London, Elba emphasized the significance of the first Monday back after the new year, pointing out that it was the first day that both schools and Parliament were back in session.

However, he highlighted a stark truth – only one of these institutions will grapple with the unsettling reality of numerous empty desks. In 2023, a surge in serious youth violence gripped the nation, resulting in the premature truncation of countless promising lives over trivial disputes or fleeting emotions.

The aftermath left hundreds of classrooms draped in sorrow, overshadowed by grief. Elba passionately asserted that the future of young people, representing our collective potential, deserves to flourish rather than being marred by violence.

*Key findings specific to the Barnet perspective on this issue:

  • Young males under the age of 25 bear the brunt of and actively participate in serious violence incidents.
  • Barnet’s crime profile underscores violence against the person, burglary, theft, and robbery as predominant crime types in the borough, mirroring a similar trend among 10 to 18-year-olds.
  • Youth Justice Service (YJS) data reveals a 63% increase in 10 to 18-year-olds found in possession of weapons in 2023 compared to reported data in 2022, correlating with a rise in robbery offenses.
  • While YJS data indicates relatively low levels of drug-related offenses among 10 to 18-year-olds, the Metropolitan Police’s data reveals an 18% increase in drug-related offenses.
  • In 2023, there was a 40% reduction in serious violence incidents in the community, compared to a rise in violent incidents at public transport hubs and restaurants in the borough.
  • A 43% reduction in the number of young people in Barnet identified as suspects in community violence incidents occurred in 2023.
  • Sexual assaults surged by 89% since 2021, with a correlation between deprivation rates and violent crime and sexual offenses, as Barnet’s overall economic activity figure stands at 64.57%.
  • The number of young people excluded from school due to involvement in serious violent crimes rose from 24 to 65. Of these, 69% were male, and 12% had Special Education Needs (SEN) and/or an Education, Health, Care Plan (EHCP).

*Serious Violence Strategic Needs Assessment November 2023 Barnet Safer Communities Partnership – Source

This ongoing dialogue about serious youth violence is not new; thousands of conversations have transpired and continue to do so. However, the grim reality is that the issue persists and, in fact, is escalating.

The poignant installation at Parliament Square serves as a visual reminder of the lives lost – youthful lives brimming with potential. Each stack of clothing symbolises the profound pain endured by families. Pause and absorb the gravity of it; it is unfathomable, yet for some, it remains an inescapable reality.

The question arises: What compels young individuals to carry knives? The answer is intricate, often rooted in socio-economic factors, the fear of conflict, the pursuit of protection, the avoidance of losing face, or the susceptibility to being ensnared or groomed into perilous situations. These factors collectively contribute to the burgeoning crisis of serious youth violence. So, what is the solution?

The imperative lies in a heightened investment in early intervention and prevention measures. We must allocate resources to establish safe spaces for young people, staffed by trusted and trained youth workers who can provide guidance.

Cultivating trusted relationships with positive community role models becomes paramount in shaping well-rounded young adults poised for positive contributions to our communities.

While the solution appears straightforward, the reality is that we have seen substantial cuts to youth services over the past 10-15 years. To effectively address the surge in youth violence, we cannot afford to continue to trivialise the issue.

We must channel our focus and resources toward investing in futures rather than expending funds to repair lives after tragic events unfold – events that involve the use of knives to maim or take the lives of our young people.

We want to implore the powers that be to invest locally. Local groups, often run by local people have the trusted relationships within our communities but lack the resources to continue their work as the funding to the voluntary sector shrinks and often disappears from council budgets.

We have lost many youth workers because there are limited career prospects for people wanting to work in this field – this needs to be addressed with long-term investment or we will continue to watch the rise of youth violence and mourn the death of our young people.

The “Don’t Stop Your Future” campaign commenced with a striking installation in Parliament Square and the release of a poignant single titled Knives Down.

To champion the cause and address the pressing issue, individuals are encouraged to share the campaign with their local MPs at www.dsyf.com

Janet Matthewson is CEO of Young Barnet Foundation – www.youngbarnetfoundation.org.uk


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