Home Estate Planning London’s global reputation is at risk from soaring knife crime – it’s time to act

London’s global reputation is at risk from soaring knife crime – it’s time to act

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To end the capital’s knife crime epidemic, we need to create a new universal gold-standard youth service for London, writes Rayhan Haque

A knife crime epidemic is raging across the capital. From young people to financiers with nice watches in Mayfair, everyone is now at risk. 

The latest Office for National Statistics figures show there were a staggering 14,000 knife crimes in London in the year to the end of September 2023, compared to the previous 12 months. That is a huge 22 per cent increase. 

The total includes 8,343 robberies with a knife. The long-term trend has only been in one direction, with knife crime in the capital 54 per cent higher than the yearly figure of 9,086 recorded in March 2016, just before mayor Sadiq Khan took office. 

Nearly two thirds of Londoners now feel crime and public safety in the capital is worsening. And most alarming, crime has become an everyday reality for many youngsters, with a major study last year finding that half of teenagers in England and Wales have seen or experienced violence.  

This crisis has put at risk London’s standing in the world. Our economy cannot function properly unless people feel safe operating their businesses, commuting to and from work, going out to relax at night, and to raise their children here. 

The formative years of young Londoners should be about enjoyment, discovery, education and safety. Teens should not be burdened by the worries of whether they might get stabbed or not. 

The causes are deep-seated. It’s linked to high levels of inequality and poverty. It’s linked to educational exclusion. It’s linked to some elements of social media. It’s linked to policing cuts. It’s linked to the failures of our rehabilitation system. 

However, one of the strongest factors is youth work and spaces, which have been decimated by years’ of cuts and poor political leadership. That resulted in the loss of more than 600 full-time youth worker jobs and over 130 youth centres closing

There was never a logical argument to these cuts. In 2022, UK Youth and Frontier Economics, found that youth work sees economic gains of £500m through crime reduction, £1.7bn through improved health, and £800m from increased employment and education. The study found that for every pound invested in youth services, £3.20 – £6.40 was generated in benefits to the taxpayer.  

To end the knife crime epidemic, we need to right this wrong and create a new universal gold-standard youth service for London. This must be designed by communities, led by communities, of the communities, and for the communities. 

There are 704 wards across London’s 32 boroughs and City of London. Each one should have a dedicated youth centre and team of highly trained youth workers. 

We need nothing but the best for the city’s young people. These can’t be dingy youth centres with half broken pool tables and little else. They must be youth centres equipped with state of the art facilities that are a major draw for young people, offering activities such as careers and entrepreneurial workshops, tech training, media classes, arts and cooking sessions, and sporting activities. 

Crucially, they must also offer mentorship and mental health support to steer vulnerable young people away from gangs and criminality. Young people need to see these places as genuine safe spaces, where they can always turn to for sanctuary and help. 

This mission will require significant investment (both capital and revenue) to build new spaces and places for young people and to fund the next generation of youth workers. This is a profession that needs to be seen as on a par with other key public service practitioners, such as teachers. 

One way we could fund this youth service is from a new Visitor Nights Levy in London, that adds a small surcharge to those staying in hotels, B&Bs, Airbnbs, and other serviced accommodation. Paris, Rome, Venice, and many other European cities have such levies in place to help support the city’s upkeep. London is an outlier in not having one. 

The funding generated from this new levy would generate nearly £1bn worth of revenue annually (assuming a £6 levy per person, per night).

Apportioning some of this to London’s youth infrastructure and services would provide the consistent, sustainable, and necessary levels of money they need to help end the knife crime and youth violence epidemic. 

Our ambition has to be nothing less. London’s global reputation is on the line. 

Rayhan Haque is independent candidate for London mayor 2024 

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