Dr Lee Rotherham is a member of the advisory board of Kids Count.
In parts of the country, the chance of meeting someone carrying a knife is a direct and regular threat. In others, it’s not so local or immediate. Sometimes you cross that boundary in space and risk.
In my own case, it was at a South London bus stop one evening a few years ago. Five yards away, hidden on the other side of the shelter, there was a quick commotion and then two young people ran away. A third was lying on the ground, bleeding. Like the proverbial lightning bolt, the threat came from nowhere and then vanished, leaving the victim on the ground.
Thankfully the injury was something that army first aid and a few days in hospital could deal with. But in other cases, victims, and their families, aren’t so lucky.
That’s why recent pieces carried by this website on this issue deserve wider attention by policy makers. It’s also why a new study that’s just been released is so very timely.
Kids Count has just launched an important new audit. It’s the precursor to a much larger study reviewing cause and effect, as well as solutions tested and proven, which will itself come out shortly. But the advance document is critically important in its own right because it captures what people in the front line – I use the term deliberately – are identifying as the critical causes and responses, and sets them out collectively in a plain ‘ready to use’ format.
Rather than just taking items in isolation, which is where policy responses to issues tend to fall down, it recognises that the causes of knife crime are in fact many, varied, complex and interlocking. Successful solutions in turn have to comprehensively tackle all of these, simultaneously embracing the needs and capabilities of all the relevant parties best placed to do so.
Measures such as the new Knife Crime Prevention Orders that have just been announced demonstrate a real intent by the Home Office to tackle the issue coherently by methods both preventative and punitive. But to work, they need structured linkage with actions by other government departments and agencies as well as from independent players.
Conservatives might remember in this the famous wire diagram of Sir John Hoskyns, setting out the connecting circuitry behind the country’s economic problems in the 1970s. It revealed, in inventive graphic format, the need for a comprehensive set of solutions in order not just to hide the symptoms or push the problem elsewhere on the chart, but to win the big fix.
From recent reporting of shifts in how the Cabinet Office committee systems are being set up, it’s a principle that seems again to have been revisited by Downing Street, targeting policies and problems by concept across departments rather than only partially and in isolation.
Knife crime can only be seriously taken on by this universalist approach. In headline terms, it needs to address known problems in structuring funding, and by generating better systems for collecting data; to deploy the lessons learned around policing, the Justice System, and trials of youth courts; to more widely recognise where support can be provided in classrooms and school corridors, as well as social or family environments; to accept the principle that any ‘solution’ to knife crime must have a balance between understanding root causes, deploying preventative measures, and applying effective law enforcement – all the while mobilising communities, and helping individuals to motivate their peers.
Quick lists like that easily read like a cold abstract. But dig deeper, and listen to the people at the coal face talking about the work they are doing, the lives being lost, and the community being undermined. The launch by Kids Count in Westminster Hall proved to be an opportunity to do just that; to listen to some of the extraordinary people who are making real change, and whose successes in confronting each set of circumstances need to be replicated more widely. Their lessons generate the working examples that explain how to successfully turn these principles into action.
You can request the knife crime document here. It’s a short paper, just sixteen pages, simply listing the drivers and then ways to tackle them. Nevertheless, as we await the launch shortly of the main Kids Count research paper, any Cabinet committee or action group tasked with the problem will find it essential interim reading.