Vicky Foxcroft, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford, has set up a cross-party commission seeking to tackle youth violence. Below, Mark sets out why he’s signed up to be part of the team. To find out more about the Youth Violence Commission and its work visit: http://www.youthviolencecommission.org/
Youth and gang violence in my constituency, Cities of London and Westminster, is not a new phenomenon, but worrying statistics suggest that it is on the rise. That is why the Youth Violence Commission, set up by my Parliamentary colleague Vicky Foxcroft MP, is so relevant.
In my 15 years as the local Member of Parliament there have been a number of high-profile, horrific murders and attacks here in central London. I have seen first-hand the impact that these have on local communities. For example, students at schools in Westminster tell me that they are subject to intimidation from gangs in the street and on buses. A few years ago, shoppers and tourists were left traumatised after fighting broke out and a young man was tragically stabbed to death on Oxford Street in broad daylight.
As the father of two young children these stories are heartbreakingly worrying. No young person, the vast majority of whom are decent, law-abiding citizens, should have to feel frightened where they live or on their way to school. Nor should the wider public have to witness such violence in their day to day lives.
Thankfully, there are some wonderful initiatives in place to tackle this behaviour, such as the ‘Your Choice’ programme run by Westminster City Council. The programme brings together young people, the Metropolitan Police and volunteers to offer support in schools to prevent offending and additional help to those who want to leave a gang or find work.
Clearly there is more, much more, to be done. Keen to learn more about the difficulties in curbing youth crime, particularly knife crime, I have met with one of Britain’s top trauma surgeons who operates on victims at the Royal London Hospital. He told me that there are problems with collecting evidence and low levels of reporting and recommended a more joined-up approach from the police, the Home Office and local authorities.
The Youth Violence Commission presents an exciting opportunity to bring together key stakeholders with valuable insights, and the young people who are directly affected by this type of crime, to find out what really works in tackling it. By sharing best practice from across the UK and, potentially further afield, I truly believe we shall direct policy in a way that positively changes society in the long-term. Above all, this work will change and perhaps even save the lives of countless young people across the country.