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Spate on Youth Gang and Knife Crime linked with Demise of Youth Clubs?

May 01, 2019


It is well known that knife and gang crime is dangerously on the rise in the UK. There has been amassing media coverage and national debate on how to approach such a challenging issue affecting our society, many involving young people who become embroiled and groomed in gangs dealing with drugs and sexual exploitation. It appears to hit our headlines every week, another stabbing, another victim, another incident of gang warfare being committed in broad daylight, in crowded shopping areas, even in the corridors of our schools. The exposure granted by the press on such concerning topics shows how much knife and gang crime is on the agenda and infiltrating every corner of our society from the comfort of our sofas as we scroll through our news feed to the debates held by MPs in Parliament.

 It probably goes without saying one of the most contingent factors illustrating the sharp increase in gang and knife crime are the statistics published by police. Last year a record number of knife and weapon offences were recorded by the police with the Office of National Statistics (2019) declaring a total of 40,829 offences involving knives or sharp instruments being committed in England and Wales. This current endemic of knife crimes is one that has claimed the lives of 732 people in 2018, the highest recorded since 2007, and a figure that is looking to rise this year amid the terrifying spate of knife crimes and killings involving young people. These statistics of course cannot measure the emotional and mental agony that is inflicted on the victim’s family and friends who have lost a loved one to these brutal and fatal attacks. These latest findings recorded by the police confront a dark and stark reality in which we also see a rise in young people becoming complicit in wielding knifes and weapons on each other.

 It is a challenging time for young people in the UK. The pressures impounded on children and teenagers in modern society is ever growing, unrelenting and having damaging effects on young people’s confidence and self-esteem. This is derivative of the mental health crisis occurring amongst young people and with lengthy waiting times for those seeking professional help is still urgently problematic, the situation is not looking to ease anytime soon.

 This conflicting infrastructure built around young people where they are made to conform to unrealistic ideals held up by society, is probed by every source in their lives, whether that be school, home, social media or even at work. An area of national major concern, one that is increasingly preying on the vulnerabilities and anxieties of young people in our country, is the powerful and volatile influence of gangs. A report by the Children’s Commissioner of England (February 2019) has estimated that 27,000 children aged between 10 and 17 in England identify as being part of a gang. These gangs often recruit their members, many desperate to find a sense of belonging, by using sophisticated grooming methods and imposing threats of violence if they try to leave.

 The young people entrapped in gangs find themselves in a vicious circle in which they attempt to curb the ordeal of gang- imposed violence by carrying knives in order to protect themselves from harm. Research has shown that those who have been victim of knife crime are twice as likely to carry knives themselves compared to non-victims (Youth Survey, 2008).

The notion that carrying a knife as a method of protection and deterrence from violence is irrational, however, it illustrates the desperate extent young people feel forced to go to due to the threat of gang criminality. A report by Ofsted, ‘Safeguarding Children and Young People in Education from Knife Crime’ (March 2019), revealed that young people groomed in to gangs for the purpose of criminal exploitation are at the highest risk of carrying knives. A conception of gangs being just confined to sprawling the streets is being reconfigured with a rising number of children being caught handling knives and weapons at school. This is a huge safeguarding issue to contend with in our society and one that must be dealt with appropriately and effectively. If schools are no longer deemed as safe and inclusive environments for our children to grow and nurture their aspirations, then what opportunities for our children and young people remain, if places dedicated to their self-development are rapidly in decline?

 It is no surprise to hear that a huge number of youth clubs have been forced to close, most notably in the capital, due to significant funding cuts hitting the youth sector. The demise of a growing number of youth clubs is having a rippling effect all over the country and is felt strongly in London where youth violence is most prevalent. Youth clubs offer young people a vibrant and a stimulating environment in which they can socialise, learn and have fun. These places are often considered a lifeline for many young people, helping them to relieve feelings of boredom and isolation during the school holidays. The safety offered by youth clubs to young people is invaluable, preventing some of them from falling susceptible to crime and anti-social behaviour when hanging out on the streets. However, with many youth clubs struggling to sustain themselves, is it any wonder that young people become embroiled in gang violence. 

The effect of youth gang and knife crime on young people is immense with 65% of children and young people living in London saying they were frightened of being attacked and exploited by gangs during the summer holidays (The Childhood Trust, 2018). It is unfair that many young people are forced to live under a cloud of fear due to the potent threat and intimidation of gang violence. This itself speaks volumes on how much action needs to be taken and immediately if young people are to feel safe again in their homes, neighbourhood and schools.

We can’t eradicate youth gang and knife crime completely unfortunately, but what we can do to tackle the worries imposed on children and young people is to educate them on the risks of engaging in gang crime and violence. By offering children and young people a community network in which they can access support and guidance on mental health and wellbeing, this will enable them to build up the resilience and confidence to avert engaging in activities that will expose them and others to harm and abuse.

We have a variety of wellbeing resources on our website that provide lots of information on how to implement welling practices in your organisation, including how to stop the signs of a young person suffering with mental health issues. We also have a list of specialist organisations that you can approach for further guidance on the different services available young people to support them with mental health and wellbeing.