I know all too well about the impact of serious youth violence.
At the Jan Trust, we have been working for three decades to support mothers whose children – mostly sons – have been killed in violent incidents in Haringey, north London. In the past month alone there has been a double stabbing in Wood Green, which is just down the road from the Jan Trust’s women’s centre. The issue is a grave concern for many families in this area.
The unfortunate reality is that a growing number of young people are carrying knives, are members of gangs and have the mind-set that they have no choice but to carry weapons because they are scared. There are many complex factors that can make young people more vulnerable to becoming involved with this kind of violence, including deprivation, alienation and issues surrounding purpose and self-worth.
This issue has been discussed extensively, with many commentators suggesting that funding for policing should be increased. In fact, the police have been promised an extra £100m by the government to help them tackle knife crime in England and Wales. It is true that there have been significant policing budget cuts over the years and an increase in more specialised and proficient policing is needed to help soothe the distrust formed between communities from biases such as racial profiling.
However, a solution that focuses entirely on enforcement will not prevent serious youth violence. To end the vicious cycle, we need to get to the root of the issue and truly address the kind of disaffection and exclusion that many young people feel and the life circumstances in which they find themselves. This is why it is absolutely vital to prioritise and focus funding on community support services and youth projects.
A public health approach, as opposed to solely a justice-driven method, has proved an effective way to tackle serious youth violence in Scotland. As part of this approach, it is crucial to fund and support voluntary organisations that have key and trusting relationships with mothers and families in affected communities, making them aware of this issue and how they can support their young people.
Having these discussions in trusted safe spaces and opening people’s eyes to the realities of serious youth violence have been shown to make a difference and can combat the glorification of violence that a young person might see on social media. Listening to real-life stories of how knife crime has affected parents, families, and friends has the ability to resonate and change hearts and minds. Tragically, these are stories I know all too well from speaking to mothers in Haringey.
Recently, a group of mothers who tragically lost their sons to knife crime spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. They shared stories of their grief and publicly spoke out about many of the needs I have heard expressed over the years: the importance of holistic approaches, educating children from a young age on this issue and having trusted community organisations to speak to for support, especially for discreet parental advice in light of the lack of trust in the police.
The government must take this into account and prioritise funding for grass-roots organisations in areas such as community family support and advice, employment opportunities, social youth groups and projects and educational workshops, to name a few. Grass-roots work is what will truly bring change.
We need to address the lack of opportunities and general disillusionment by giving young people options and providing them with realistic alternatives so they no longer feel a sense of hopelessness. Then they’ll be able to build meaning in their lives and see a future away from violent crime and gang culture. Focusing funding on third-sector efforts as part of a larger multi-pronged approach is what is necessary to achieve this.
Sajda Mughal is chief executive of the Jan Trust, an awarding-winning women’s charity