Opinion: We must consider the part that public services can play in preventing youth violence
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
In the 15 years I have lived in Highgate, I have never seen anything like what happened in the village last month.
A 16-year-old boy was stabbed multiple times, just yards from a primary school, at 4pm when it was still light and the streets were still busy. This led to a huge police response, including North Road being shut for days.
Understandably, local residents were shocked.
The sad truth though, is that what is unprecedented in Highgate has become horrifyingly common across London. In 2019, the Met Police recorded 149 homicides, the most for a decade. The youngest victim was just 14.
A lot of the debate about the reasons for this escalation has, reasonably, focused on the role played by cuts to police numbers. These of course, should be reversed. However, we must consider the part that the full range of public services can play in preventing youth violence.
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Let us take as an example, youth services. It would of course, be a mistake to primarily think of youth centres and workers as a counter-crime measure: they mostly exist to help children learn, make friends and get involved in sports and creative activities. However, they also can help divert children away from situations where they are at risk of being caught up in crime.
For all these reasons, Haringey Liberal Democrats opposed the mass closure of the borough's youth centres in 2011. We recognised, of course, the financial hardship that led to this decision. However, we felt that even in strained times youth services had to remain a priority. Therefore, our councillors put forward alternative savings. Sadly, the ruling Labour Group rejected these and pushed ahead with the closures.
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Fortunately, the council recently won a bid for a GLA grant to help fund a range of youth projects in the borough, however, this is a short-term solution that does not give the service the long-term stability it needs to flourish. Therefore, at the full council budget meeting last week one of the Liberal Democrat amendments to Haringey's annual budget proposed £1 million in core funding to provide long-term funding for Haringey's youth services.
We also sought to prioritise the interventions most likely to prevent crimes. For example, we know that teenagers are disproportionately likely to become the victim or perpetrators of a crime during the time between them leaving school and their parents returning from work. Siobhan Benita, former member of the Youth Violence Commission and now Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London, has proposed plugging this gap in adult supervision with a "Youth Happy Hour". Under this scheme extensive support would be offered for charities, faith groups, companies, community organisations and volunteers who are ready and willing to keep schools open, offer skills training, put on sports activities and offer mentoring during this crucial 4-6pm window.
While Siobhan is proposing implementing this London-wide, and it would be fantastic to have a mayor who champions this policy, there is nothing preventing individual councils implementing local versions of the scheme. Our budget amendment showed where the funding could be identified to make this happen in Haringey which included a cut to the council's very significant comms budget.
Whilst Labour rejected these proposals, we will push for them to be looked at again soon. There is no time to waste in finding ways to protect our young people from violence.