Everyday, it seems, we hear about another teenager dying needlessly from knives and guns. Have the police really lost the streets, as the former chief superintendent Victor Olisa suggests? With over 50 people dead so far this year – briefly overtaking New York – some may be inclined to agree.
Like you, we are following the news and are alarmed at the senseless violence. As a tuition agency based in East London, and where the majority of our clients are based, we want to mention possible contributory factors that may have created the perform storm for youth violence.
Impact of police cuts
In 2010, police numbers across the country were cut by about 21,500 by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May – our current Prime Minister. Here is a chart that shows police numbers gradually increasing between 2006 and 2010, and then beginning to fall as soon after the Coalition Government of 2010.
Extraordinarily, the police warned about the consequences for these cuts, especially to Neighbourliness Policing where most of the local intelligence is gathered, but Theresa May refused to accept these and even accused the Police Federation of “scare-mongering” and doing a “disservice to the public.”
About 2500 police officers were taken off the streets of London. One could argue that an entire generation of youth have grown up seeing fewer police presence than their older generation. Visible police presence play a massive role in deterring crime, and the reduction of the force and its consequences cannot be easily dismissed away.
Yet, this is exactly what was done, this time by the current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, where she categorically denied a link between police numbers and the recent spate in deaths. Her argument being that the police have the necessary funds to tackle such violent crimes.
Embarrassingly, leaked documents from the Home Office reveals that indeed, government cuts “may have encouraged” violent offenders, and it may have “likely contributed” to the rise of violent crime. Nevertheless, Amber Rudd correctly suggested that there is a strong link between drugs and the rise of violent crime.
UK drug trade and children
According to the National Crime Agency (2015), drug trafficking costs the UK nearly 11 billion pounds, with 25-30 tonnes of cocaine and 18-23 tonnes of heroine imported annually. UK is seen as lucrative market for drug smugglers, as street prices are comparably higher than in other European countries. Distributing this amount of drugs requires a large network of “dealers” and “runners.”
The BBC’s “Britain’s Teenage Drug Runners (2017)” programme revealed that up to 46,000 children are involved in gangs in the UK. More worrying, London gangs are increasingly using children to distribute drugs across the capital, with reports that gangs are expanding operations outside of their traditional “turf” and into the leafy London suburbs – in some cases, using children as young as 12.
Older gang leaders view teenagers as easily manipulable, who can learn the trade and potentially move up the ranks. Risk of using teenagers is low, as older drug dealers keep an arm-lengths distance from some ground operations. The conviction rates supports this assertion, as VICE reports, there has been a 50% increase in the number of under 21 year olds convicted for selling Class A drugs in 2017.
The Independent interviewed David (not his real name) about his experiences as an ex-drug dealer who ran operations whilst doing his GCSEs. David would do as much as 10 drug deals before arriving at the school gates and would continue selling drugs until midnight.
About David’s relationship with some of these “bosses” – this was his response:
You don’t know where those people live. They keep as quiet as possible. They might come and pick you up in their car, or they might meet you at one of the druggies’ houses.
David has now turned his life around after enrolling in a plumbing course.
Watch this shocking interview posted just yesterday about an “older” drug dealer who shares details of how he preys on young people. Strong language used.
Social media influence
Is there a link between the proliferation of youth crime and the rise of social media? The report by HM Inspectorate of Probation suggests there is, where they claim disputes involving young people often begin online, which rapidly escalate on to the streets.
There is a disconnect between Youth Offending Teams that currently supervise around 19,000 young people, who they argue need to catch up with social media-rated crime.
Listen to Chris Preddie, a youth crime campaigner and social media activist, tell us about the “point system” some sections of our youth are disturbingly using on online.
Allure of gangs
For many young people, gangs provide protection, a sense of identity and a means to make money. Here is an excerpt of the Guardian’s series on youth crime, where Michael, 17, shares his story:
There was a lot of us, more than 20. It’s like a family. What you’d do for a little brother, you’d do for your bredren [brethren]. If one of you is going somewhere and gets stopped by someone, the whole lot of you would jump him cos he’s stopped one of your bredren. If you entered their territory alone, it’s what we call “slipping” and you can get hit. So when we went out it was as a family – MZ family, we used to call it. If one of my friends gets hit I’m down to do whatever it takes. Let’s say he gets beaten up, that means I will go over there and do the same to the youth. I won’t murder them, but I’ll beat him till he’s unconscious, just like how my friend’s unconscious. But if he’s murdered my friend, that’s a different story. If you’ve lost a friend, most people my age would think they had to take a life from the other side. Either because of the rep you need – “Yeah, he pulled the trigger he was a bad man” – or cos he was your bredren and you can’t let a life go away like that.
Michael’s experience is no different to thousands of people across the country, where a combination of loyalty, glamour, protection, and financial reward, is fuelling the rise of gangs and the criminality it spawns.
According to the NSPCC, young people join gangs out of boredom, a need for excitement, status, protection, and power. They also cite family and financial problems for being a primary driver.
This is echoed by Patrick Boyce, the father of a teenager who was stabbed after going home from college which left him in a permanent vegetative state. He believes the reason teenagers join gangs is because of broken homes and a lack of father figure. Listen to his interview with the BBC’s 5 Live:
We have raised concerns about benefit cuts to the poorest sections of society, especially those enacted by the previous Chancellor, George Osborne. The cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance, youth services, education provisions, Bedroom Tax – and others that impact the vulnerable – have no doubt contributed towards an atmosphere where the poor feel marginalised.
Have these cuts contributed to the current crisis of youth dissatisfaction?
Schools can do more
It is not unreasonable to expect our schools to do more, considering the fact that gangs are increasingly employing students of secondary school age. Just as there is emphasis on sex education, we ask the question: is it time for something similar to be done for gangs and youth crime?
Understandably, reaching a national consensus on the issues could prove challenging, since much of it depends on one’s political leanings, not least an issue about funding to facilitate any measure.
It is our view that the youth in inner-cities need to hear from ex-gang members from within local areas talk about their experiences, so it can shatter the gang-life’s allure and glamour. Students also need to hear from recently released prisoners and learn about the real consequences.
The challenges facing inner-city students are markedly different to those from the wealthier suburbs, and a localised and grass-roots approach may help the youth make better decisions outside of school life.
What do you think? Share us your view on what needs to be done to tackle youth crime.