Local and national headlines show there is a widespread concern that as lockdown restrictions ease, crimes related to gangs, drugs and knives will increase. The underlying issues, frustrations and disagreements have not disappeared in lockdown, but in many cases will have been fuelled in social media. We have started to see the reality of this at Billy’s Wish. With schools now fully open we have seen a sharp increase in subscribers to our Education Programme which can be taught in school. Worryingly, in the 2 weeks since schools fully opened, we have had enquiries from teachers who have children as young as ten carrying knives.
According to the Office of National Statistics, overall crime rates in England and Wales were in decline in the 12 months ending June 2020 – some of this will be because of the national lockdown. Despite overall crime rates declining in England and Wales, knife crime and youth violence have both risen in many parts of the UK. Including sharp rises in drug offences and anti-social behaviour incidents (Source: ONS, 12 months ending June 2020).
A poverty of hope
Javed Khan, of Barnardos, says: During the first lockdown from April to June last year offences plummeted by 22%, but rose by 25% again in July to September, giving us an idea of what might erupt once restrictions are lifted and life begins to return to normal. He also talks about a ‘poverty of hope’ brought about because: “Children and young people have spent months out of school and away from their support networks, leaving many vulnerable to exploitation and control by criminal gangs who have seized on the disruption. With rising unemployment and poor job prospects, some young people are finding it hard to believe in a positive future, and see no alternative but to turn to a dangerous way of making money, carrying knives to protect themselves.”
At Billy’s Wish, we would agree that this is major factor in the root causes of knife crime. We want children to understand peer pressure, to surround themselves with the right people and look for support from the right people. As a society we have a joint responsibility to keep our children safe. Together we need to give them support, structure and routes out of all kinds of poverty. There is no single answer. The part we play at Billy’s Wish is to share the personal story of a family, and their friends, torn apart by knife crime, and stories of other people also affected – including the words of perpetrators in prison who are desperate to have their voice heard. We tie all this together in PSHE based lessons and workshops.