Former Kirklees councillor HARPREET UPPAL is Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Huddersfield and hopes to replace Barry Sheerman who is stepping down as MP at the next General Election. Here she talks about what needs to be done to tackle the scourge of knife crime.
Sadly, in towns like Huddersfield and across the country, we have seen the devastating consequences of knife crime; of lives lost too young, of devastated families, of trauma and fear felt by communities. Of potential lost.
In the last eight years knife crime has gone up by more than 70% with some of the steepest increases in towns and suburbs.
Too often young people say they are not listened too and, worryingly, they don’t feel safe. Too often interventions don’t come early enough. Youth services, Sure Start and Neighbourhood Policing have been dismantled under the Conservatives in many communities.
A record number of children and young people are seeking mental health support from the NHS; analysis from the think tank Crest suggests over 200,000 children are vulnerable to serious violence; and last year saw the highest number of people killed with a knife for over 70 years, with the biggest increase amongst young boys aged 16-17.
The Commission on Young Lives, Hidden in Plain Sight, described how the experience of parents of at-risk children and teenagers told a consistent tale of missed opportunities, unmet need, and a confused tangle of services.
When there is contact with services, families say that they are too often met with a conveyor belt of assessments, churn of professionals and early closure of cases.
The Government’s response has also been wholly inadequate. The serious violence strategy is more than five years out of date, the serious violence taskforce was disbanded, and everyone knows, from their own communities, that too little is being done to divert young people away from violence and crime.
A knife arch at Huddersfield Railway Station
I recently attended an event at the University of Huddersfield organised by youth and community leaders on tackling serious violence. We discussed resilience, tackling mental ill health and how local public services and community leaders are building coping mechanisms in a system that is at breaking point.
We heard from young people who spoke about their own experiences, trauma they endured, concern for friends and family members but also about their aspirations for their future and how they want to be a part of the solution in tackling violence and knife crime.
They were supported by local youth and community workers, many of whom have full-time jobs and family commitments. With the little time they have left they are developing youth projects and working with young people who are at risk of gang violence.
As one youth worker said to me: “We desperately need that change of government. Our young people are being failed.”
At the Labour Party Conference, I was delighted to see the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, lay out Labour’s mission to halve knife crime within ten years of government.
We will close the loophole which allows online marketplaces to sell dangerous knives. It cannot be right that it is as easy to buy a dangerous knife online, as it is to buy a football.
Some frightening knives seized off the streets of West Yorkshire
We will introduce a new Young Futures programme to tackle knife crime and address rising mental health issues among young people, with major reform to focus on prevention rather than just sticking plaster policies.
Young futures will bring a targeted programme in every area to identify the young people most at risk, and build a package of support that responds to the challenges they are facing.
This will be achieved through bringing together services at a local level to better coordinate delivery of preventative interventions around the young person, rooted in a strong evidence base.
Under Labour, a national network of Young Futures hubs will bring local services together, deliver support for teenagers at risk of being drawn into crime or facing mental health challenges and, where appropriate, deliver universal youth provision.
We’ll also bring youth workers into A&E units and pupil referral units to target young people who are starting to be drawn into violence, a pilot programme of which is already being trialled in Huddersfield.
The programme will be developed with local government leaders, experts, local partnerships and most importantly young people themselves. For those who repeatedly cause trouble in their community or are found carrying knives, there also needs to be stronger interventions and clear consequences to stop their behaviour escalating.
We must give young people their future back. This must be priority for Parliament and, if I am elected as MP for Huddersfield, I will be relentlessly focused on this.
As Keir Starmer said recently: “Imagine if a whole country said we back your potential… A country where every contribution is equally respected. Where you don’t have to change who you are just to get on. Where whatever your background, you feel secure, valued, certain things will get better for your children.”
Because, in the end, that’s something we all want. For our families and communities to succeed. And for Britain to get its future back.