NewsLess hostility, more community

Less hostility, more community

Attempts to reduce serious crime among young people in the UK are failing. A report calls for an urgent new direction to tackle youth violence, finds journalist Kaye McIntosh.

(Youth Endowment Fund, 2022)

Donovan Allen, 17. Tyler Hurley, 16. Teon Campbell-Pitter, 16. Gordon Gault, 14. It’s a chilling roll call of tragedy. And these are just a handful of the young people stabbed to death in 2022 in England alone.

There were 69 murder victims aged from 13 to 19 in England and Wales – 51 killed by a knife or other sharp instrument in the year ending March 2022 (Office for National Statistics, 2023).

Children carried out more than 3500 knife and offensive weapon crimes in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021 (Youth Justice Board, 2022).

Campaigners say the authorities are failing to tackle the issue. Serious youth violence (SYV) is defined by civil rights campaigners Liberty as harm inflicted on young people by their peers that results in serious injury or death.

Jodie Beck, senior policy officer at Liberty says that the UK Government has used the crisis as a way of justifying investment in punitive policing in England and Wales. Jodie says the government’s approach ‘really lays the fault and the blame of SYV at the feet of young people themselves, especially young people of colour, especially young black boys’.

Liberty is one of nine groups working in the UK in youth safety, racial justice, mental health and policing that together say the criminal justice system isn’t providing the answer.


As a coalition, these groups produced a report, Holding Our Own: A guide to non-policing solutions to serious youth violence, which calls for a radical new approach in England and Wales (Liberty, 2023). A ‘major investment in trauma-informed and racially literate support for young people’. An end to school exclusions, better funding for community youth services and a roll-back police powers are among its main objectives.

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, which coordinated the report, said: ‘Whatever our postcode or the colour of our skin, we all deserve to grow up in communities where we are cared for, and given the tools we need to flourish in life.

‘But instead of investing in young people or providing support to deal with the causes of social problems, the government has given the police more powers to try to tackle the symptoms. This has led to more and more people being treated unfairly by the police, rather than being given the help they need.’

Policing is in crisis, say the coalition of nine groups authoring the report, highlighting that racism and misogyny is under the spotlight. Just one example of this was the strip search involving ‘Child Q’ – a black schoolgirl who was menstruating at the time – in Hackney, east London, in 2020.

What’s more, stop and search powers have been expanded this year, giving police powers to search anyone near a protest (Police Crime and Sentencing Act, 2023). Black people were seven times more likely to be searched than their white counterparts in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021 (Home Office, 2022).


The report also calls for a move away from punitive approaches to young people, including a demand to halt school expulsions.

‘Exclusion is just one element of a hostile environment that’s created in the classroom’, writes the Black-led grassroots movement No More Exclusions (NME) in the report. Rather, a system must be ‘created to intervene in the causes of harm, rather than one that upholds the harm and punishes its victim’, NME continues. ‘It [exclusion] doesn’t work and it never has.’

Patrick Green is the chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, which aims to reduce knife crime, agrees that keeping kids in school is vital. ‘Tackling school exclusions has to be a priority. Children thrive in schools and they are safe places.’ Excluded children are in danger of exploitation by gangs, he adds.

Schools need to do more than trying to climb the league tables, Patrick suggests. ‘Of course, education is important, obtaining results is important, but in terms of Ofsted inspections we need to look at schools to nurture young people and help them grow.’


Patrick adds: ‘Frontline professionals in the Health service, youth workers, educators, parents and carers and mentors; the more contact we have with young people, the greater influence we have on them and their ability to make good decisions about knives.’

NME echoes these points in the report: ‘Children learn how to regulate their own emotions through co-regulation with adults. This requires a relationship with secure attachment. In a secure relationship, children feel safe and supported.

‘Teachers need to be trained in trauma-informed response, to better understand behaviour as communication, which challenges perceptions of criminality.’

Yet, as Jodie from Liberty says: ‘Teachers and practitioners in school settings are under immense pressure.’ Schools are ‘heavily under-resourced’ and addressing this shortfall would help them to improve the support available to struggling children.

Janet Taylor, CPHVA Executive chair, adds: ‘One aspect of the report that spoke to me was the importance of children’s attachment and bonding [in self-regulating their emotions and behaviours].

‘That’s where CPs come in because we strongly believe in early intervention, encouraging strong attachment and good decision-making from before the baby is born.’ Insecure attachments leave children looking for a sense of belonging and vulnerable to exploitation by gangs,’ she adds.

Janet backs the report’s call for local solutions: ‘We have to invest in a community health-based approach.’ School nurses can play a part, but the workforce is overstretched, she says. ‘They don’t have much time outside delivering immunisation programmes and specific pieces of work.’

Text-a-school-nurse services are one way to help young people to raise concerns. These are available across the UK, run by councils or the NHS locally.


A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: ‘All schools [in England] should be calm, safe, and supportive environments free from low-level disruption and serious behavioural issues that compromise the safety and wellbeing of pupils and school staff.

‘The government backs head teachers in using suspension and permanent exclusion as a sanction where warranted.’

Permanent exclusion should be a last resort and DfE ‘is committed to ensuring the safety and protection of vulnerable children and young people’.

While a Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We are determined to tackle the underlying causes of serious violence.’ That includes ‘tough enforcement to get dangerous weapons off the streets with programmes that steer young people away from crime’.

But Jodie sees signs of hope, with the political parties gearing up for a general election within the next couple of years. ‘It’s a great time to be making the case for a different approach.’

Holding Our Own: A guide
to non-policing solutions to
serious youth violence (Liberty)
Text-a-nurse services in the UK
The Ben Kinsella Trust

Bringing together the groups to write the report created momentum by ‘connecting grassroots services with campaigning organisations and think tanks to collectively come behind these demands’, Jodie adds. ‘We are really optimistic about how [the] coalition will grow and develop into something bigger to really “shift the dial”.’

Liberty wants CPs to come on board as they start to campaign on the report’s demands, Jodie adds: ‘Whether you are a politician or a teacher or a school or community nurse, we really want people to be inspired by these pages and share them with those around you.’


Home Office (2022). Police powers and procedures: Stop and search and arrests, England and Wales, year ending 31 March 2021 (second edition). See: (accessed 9 May 2023). 

Liberty. (2023). Holding Our Own: A guide to non-policing solutions to serious youth violence. See: (accessed 9 May). 

McVie S. (2023). Scotland’s Young People Demonstrate Success in Violence Reduction. See: (accessed 19 June 2023). 

Office for National Statistics (2023). Homicides in England and Wales: Year ending March 2022. See: (accessed 9 May 2023). 

Police Crime and Sentencing Act (2023). The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. See: (accessed 9 May 2023). 

Youth endowment fund. (2022) What is knife crime?. See: (accessed 19 June 2023). 

Youth Justice Board (2002). Youth Justice Statistics 2020-1. See: (accessed 9 May 2023).

Image credit | Shutterstock


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