Horror Over Britain’s Soaring Knife Deaths

Almost every day over the last few years, Britain has woken up to horrifying stories of lives lost, as knife crime continues to spread throughout the country. Statistics from the British Home Office reveal that the number of knife related homicide cases recorded in recent years are the highest since 1946. Most of them have been reported in major cities such as London and Manchester.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, London has overtaken New York’s knife murder rate for the first time in history. This does not only threaten the city’s economy, which depends partly on tourism, but also threatens social cohesion. As of last week, the city reported a total of 33 fatalities from stabbing since the beginning of the year. That’s just over 1.2 stabbing-related deaths a week.

The British authorities blame the upsurge of the crime on drugs and social media. It has claimed that the availability of smartphones has created an almost unlimited opportunity for rivals to antagonise each other, resulting in revenge violence.

However, there are other factors that have contributed  to the increase of knife crime. One of them is unemployment, which has lead many young people to be addicted to drugs and join gangs. Using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, drug gangs post photos of their luxurious lifestyle, which end up convincing young people that they can also lead a similar life by following suit. 

According to many security analysts, austerity measures introduced by the Conservative government are also to be blamed. The measures did not only reduce the number of police officers in many areas of London, but also slashed the police budget. Before David Cameron took over as Prime Minister, almost every shopping centre in London had its own police station. This really helped tackle knife crime, and also reduced police response time to such incidents. But things are now different. Walking around London, one would be really lucky to spot a police station. Many were closed down and sold to private developers, who turned them into luxurious flats. 

In March this year, a parliamentary report linked the involvement of young people in knife crime to cuts that have decimated social services to the youth. Councils across UK no longer allocate enough money on services such as social centres and youth employment. This has led to an idle youth, who are vulnerable to the influences of gangs. It was further revealed that the areas that reportedly had increased knife crime were those that had most reduced their spending on youth services.

According to the YMCA, council spending on youth services has fallen by more than £750m since 2010-11, with the West Midlands and North West of England most affected. The organisation’s Chief Executive, Denise Hatton, recently told The Independent that the vital services “are necessary to provide teenagers with positive activities, to help them develop, meet new friends and socialise.

“Without drastic action to protect funding and making youth services a statutory service, we are condemning young people to become a lonely, lost generation with nowhere to turn,” she added.

Reforms introduced by Theresa May in 2014 to reduce stop and search powers of the police have also been cited as another contributing factor to knife crime. May took the step after the method was criticised as targeting blacks and other minorities, thus reducing the trust between the police and the community. However, despite the limitations, black people have still been still targeted and are nine and a half times likely to be stopped and searched than other races.

Organisations such as the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies have gone to the extent of questioning the effectiveness of stop and search in combatting knife crime. According to the organisation, there is “limited evidence of the effectiveness of stop and search in reducing crime,” arguing that the “vast majority of stops and searches do not result in arrests, and reasonable grounds for a search have been found to not be apparent in around one in six stops, leading to further feelings of victimisation and unfairness.”

But despite protests from campaigners, Sajid Javid, the British Home Secretary has recently given the police more powers arguing that “the police are on the frontline in the battle against serious violence and it’s vital we give them the right tools to do their jobs.” He pointed out that stop and search was a “hugely effective power when it comes to disrupting crime, taking weapons off our streets and keeping us safe. That’s why we are making it simpler for police in areas particularly affected by serious violence to use section 60 and increasing the number of officers who can authorise the power.”

The powers provided for under section 60 give police officers authority to search anyone in an a given area to prevent crime. Unlike before, when the approval had to come from senior officers, the powers have been lowered to the rank of inspector. The police will only need to suspect that a crime is likely to be committed. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said evidence-based stop and search was “a very important tool for police”.

At the moment, the government is trying to implement a strategy that focuses on early intervention and prevention to rescue the youth before “they go down the wrong path, encouraging them to make positive choices.” It is supported by a media campaign to raise awareness about the risks of carrying knives. A range of initiatives put in place to support the strategy include a new £11 million youth fund to support communities for early intervention and prevention with young people, funding to help deliver a new round of heroin and crack action areas, and more funding for young people’s advocates working with gang-affected young women and girls.