Chuka Umunna: Politicians are failing to deal with youth crime

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Politicians from all sides have failed to deal with rising levels of youth violence, Labour's Chuka Umunna has claimed.

“British politics today is incapable of adequately responding to it,” he said in a speech made in Brixton, south London, last night.

The Streatham MP said he believed a public health model - which he said had been used "very successfully" in Scotland to reduce stabbings - could substantially lessen bloodshed on the streets in two or three years.

Umunna, who is a member of the Government's Serious Violence Taskforce, said he did not know if youth violence could ever be eradicated, but believed it could be "substantially" reduced with a "holistic" public health approach.

"Not just seeing this as an issue of enforcement and broken families, and not just seeing it as something where you can just spend more money, you can spend your way out of the problem - but actually properly tackling not just the economic but some of the cultural issues behind what is going on," he said.


'This is not an issue of black boys killing other black boys'

He also said it was wrong to reduce the issue of youth violence to something that only affects black communities.

“Let’s be absolutely clear: this is not simply an issue of black boys killing other black boys in social deprived neighbourhoods. It must not be put into a box as if it only affects one part of society,” he said.

“And what happens in one part of the community – indeed one part of the country - impacts on others. The demand for illegal drugs from well off middle class people is a major driver of this violence. Young people and children from this borough are being used to traffic drugs to other parts of Britain.”

As a trustee of the 409 Project, a Brixton charity working with teens at risk of offending, Mr Umunna gave a speech in August 2007 lamenting the 17 London teenagers shot or stabbed to death that year.

"It was grim," he told the audience. "But here we are today, 11 years later, and already this year more than 20 teenagers have been murdered in London alone."

"A lot has changed over the last decade but it shames our society that the bloodshed continues and we now need to take a fresh look at this problem because we have failed to stop the tragedy."


Left and right political responses to crime 'futile'

Umunna said neither side of the political spectrum had come up with a solution to the issue.

"The populism of left and right both here and in Europe has reduced politics to simple, black and white, tweetable answers to every problem. One side thinks the answer is to throw money at the problem and pull the levers of state. The other argues for ever tougher sanctions,” he said.

"Nothing illustrates the futility of these responses more than the issue of serious youth violence which is a complex and a very modern phenomenon. Instead of relying on old solutions that don't work, we need a paradigm shift in our understanding of serious youth violence and in the action we take to stop it."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Knife crime has devastating consequences on our communities, and our Serious Violence Strategy signals a step change in balancing a law enforcement response with a multi-agency approach."