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CHRIS PHILP: Our broken society fuels violent crime

PUBLISHED: 12:44 10 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:13 07 September 2010

Camden residents have reacted with horror to the tragic death less than two weeks ago of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella on York Way. This follows the fatal attack on 17-year-old Sharmaarke Hassan, who was shot in the head near Regent s Canal in Camden a few wee

Camden residents have reacted with horror to the tragic death less than two weeks ago of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella on York Way. This follows the fatal attack on 17-year-old Sharmaarke Hassan, who was shot in the head near Regent's Canal in Camden a few weeks ago. Ben Kinsella was the 17th teenager to die violently in London so far this year. Sharmaarke Hassan was the 15th.

These violent murders are symptomatic of a more widespread problem. Countless violent incidents occur on our streets each day. Many more youths are not engaged in education or work. This cycle, typically involving youths from the most deprived parts of society, must somehow be broken.

There are some obvious conventional actions that we can take to try to stem the tide of violent crime.

Firstly, we should provide more youth activities, to keep youngsters from deprived areas - especially boys - occupied. These activities should be delivered in areas of greatest deprivation. The council and government should work more with the voluntary sector - which often best understands the problems - to deliver these services. Kids Company in south London is a shining example of this principle in action.

Secondly, we should make sure that there are more police on the streets. At present, only about 80 of Camden's 800 police officers are on patrol at any one time. This is because they are mostly tied up with the vast government-created bureaucracy. I recently tipped off a local officer about a likely drug dealing venue, and he said it would take him five days of work to put together the forms needed to conduct covert surveillance.

Closing our local police stations is equally absurd when violent crime is such a problem. We must keep our local stations open, and free the police from government bureaucracy so that they can concentrate on catching criminals and protecting the public.

Thirdly, Boris Johnson's recent initiatives are welcome. A zero tolerance approach to knives, weapons and anti-social behaviour is right. Although stopping and searching youngsters for knives and weapons may be intrusive, given the 17 violent teenage deaths so far this year in our city, it is sadly necessary to protect young people from themselves.

The actions I've described above, while useful, treat the symptoms of this problem. We need to get to the causes.

In many places now, our society is broken. This broken society has produced disenchanted and disconnected youths, some of whom go on to commit violent crimes and many of whom are not engaged in education or work.

How do we go about healing society in order to produce the next generation of engineers, scientists and businessmen, rather than the next horrifying headline? There is no single answer. Our whole system is failing in places. Below are some examples of what we could do to start mending this.

Firstly, we need to recognise that a strong society starts with strong families and strong role models. Writing on the SomaliLife website in response to the Hassan murder, 'Ali Garbo1' says that responsible adults need to "share their experience with youngsters and become a good role model for them". Positive role models will show that education and employment, not gangs and guns, offer the best future.

This starts at home. We should encourage strong families, and society should expect parents to take responsibility for their children and their actions. For example, the tax system, the benefits system and the council housing systems should be reformed to reward parents who chose to do the right thing.

If we are honest with ourselves, we've failed in the last few decades to be a cohesive society. Not all new arrivals to the country have been well integrated into society and the economy. These divisions often lead to poverty (for example, it's harder to get a job if you don't speak much English) and social problems (if people don't feel they belong, there's more chance they might commit crime). The government and immigrant communities should both work harder to ensure that arrivals here become fully part of British society, to everyone's benefit.

Finally, many of the youngsters who end up in trouble have been failed by the state education system. Discipline in some schools is poor, especially in deprived areas. Teachers and headteachers are drowning in government directives and often do not have the freedom to impose discipline in their own schools due to over-regulation. Fundamental reform of the state education system is needed so that it gives a proper chance in life to the next generation.

In conclusion, we must actively fight violent crime head on. But to build a better and a safer society, we need to think about the underlying causes and fix them too. Where we find that our society has become broken, we must work to heal it.

Chris Philp is the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn

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