Recently teenage pupils from two schools in my constituency, Pimlico and Westminster, sent me letters on matters of local concern to them.
Obviously the letters were written as part of exercises in class – one set from a Citizenship class in Pimlico School and the other set of letters from Westminster school all started “I am writing to inform you of a problem?”
Having read all the letters it is clear to me that for most of the youngsters there is a very strong fear of crime in the district along with the thought that there are many dangerous people around. These children are not from one or two particular districts within the constituency and they made many plus points to living in the centre of London. However more than 70% mentioned fear of criminal behaviour. Among the letters was the first direct mention I had ever received on “happy slapping/happy beats” which I had only previously been made aware of through the press.
This level of response is a sad reflection on our society. For all the good elements which were written in the letters and there were a number such as parks, transport facilities, shops and a good community centre both sets of children bewailed the crime and disorder which they experienced locally.
In recent times I have had to listen to many local police and politicians saying that the level of crime and people’s anxiety to it is being hyped by the media. I have sent copies of the text of these letters to the local police force, the Mayor and the Home Office because we must stop thinking that crime and disorder is in any sense getting better. It is not. Children here in Westminster complained about the number of “dangerous people around”. Some wanted more police with guns as the answer! But drugs, graffiti and litter were mentioned frequently, often as the cause for making play areas almost no-go zones for the local neighbourhood children.
It has never been true that older people have most to fear from mugging and the anti-social behaviour of young people. Statistically the greater problems have been amongst the young and their contemporaries. Certainly the children in Westminster are facing behaviour which they dislike and, in many cases, fear in their daily lives.
I was pleased though to see that some things do not change and many of the pupils complained about the standard and quality of school lunches. I know that is something which is being improved but I fear that every generation of schoolchildren will find problems with the mass catering at schools whatever fare is served.
Similarly some pupils wrote asking for free bus travel for students. London’s Mayor is now planning such free transportation from September. The children may welcome this with alacrity but I am certain that a number of bus companies as well as travellers will be feeling much trepidation at the thought of hundreds of children leaping on buses early in the morning and in the afternoon without the benefit of the control that fare payment produces.
The solutions to the points raised by these children in Westminster are complex but what is certain is that crime and disorder is not something only perceived and felt by the mature and aged in our society. The young suffer just as much, if not more. It is simply the fact that it is we, the parents, adults and the elderly, who must take the responsibility for making the environment safer and less anxious for them to grow up in.