Since I was elected last May, eight young people have lost their lives needlessly to youth violence and knife crime in my constituency. Lewisham Deptford is not alone in this pattern of violence - between April 2015 and April 2016, the Met Police reported that more than 1600 young people were victims of knife crime across London. This doesn’t even touch on the instances that go unreported.
Recently I watched Channel 5’s Ganglands documentary and I was heartbroken to see much of the programme dedicated to young people who have lost their lives in Lewisham Deptford.
I have met with many of the families and young people involved in this broadcast. Their stories spurred me into setting up the Youth Violence Commission, a cross party response to the rise in violent crime we have seen not just in London, but in cities across the UK. Over the past two years London has seen a 16% rise in violent knife crime – a trend we all have a responsibility in reversing.
A large part of the Commission will focus on listening to young people in order to ensure their voices are heard loudly when recommending policies to Government. When I speak with young people, friends and relations of murder victims, the same messages are repeated to me. Young people want decent training and the chance to get a good job in the future. They want to be paid properly for a day’s work, they want to have a home for the future and youth facilities that allow them to socialise safely and develop their skills.
Above all, they want their voices to be heard, they want to feel safe on our streets and they want to feel optimistic about their future.
None of these are big asks. As a society we let ourselves down while any young person feels their life is at risk on our streets and while any young person commits a violent crime against one of their peers.
We must cast a wide focus when discussing youth violence – it is an issue for society as a whole to address and solutions need to come from across Government. Policy changes need to be seen in areas from education to justice and implemented both nationally and locally.
Over the next year I will work with Sadiq Khan Labour’s Mayor of London, and Sophie Linden, London’s Deputy Mayor for Police and Crime, to tackle the issue of knife crime. I will also continue with the work of the Commission. Details of our progress can be found at: http://www.youthviolencecommission.org/
I know most young people just want to do good. They need positive role models. They need to know that if they work hard they can achieve good things.
We must ensure we give them those opportunities.