This column appeared in the Friday 25th September 2020 edition of the South London Press.
As some South London Press readers will know, since being elected in 2015 one of my main concerns has been youth violence. I set up the Youth Violence Commission in 2016 to try and gain a greater understanding of the root causes and how they might be addressed through policy changes.
We published our initial findings in the summer of 2018 and were due to launch our final report in March of this year. Of course, then COVID-19 happened, and the launch had to be delayed for several months.
COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented threat and we were forced to consider its implications for our findings and recommendations. Over the past six months, millions of people have experienced extended periods of hardship. This has exacerbated existing social stressors – such as homelessness, unemployment, domestic abuse, depression, anxiety and trauma – and created new ones. We consider all of these social factors (and more) to play a part in youth violence, making our recommendations more crucial than ever.
We are also concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on England and Wales’ 18 recently established Violence Reduction Units (VRUs). As our report demonstrates, the VRUs are set to play a pivotal role in the reduction of serious violence across the UK. Given the current situation, their funding must not only be maintained, but increased. It is vital that they do not fall victim to the Government’s reductions in public spending.
Another serious concern is how schools will manage to support young people who are returning to their education after up to six months at home. We will not be able to assess the full impact of lockdown on young people’s mental health, attainment and attitude for a while, but it is likely that schools will face a lot of short to medium term challenges. Of course, they also face further disruption in the event of students testing positive or additional lockdown measures being imposed.
We were finally able to publish our long-anticipated final report on July 16th, complete with a new section on COVID-19. The launch event (called ‘The Final Word’) was hugely well attended and featured a programme put together by some of the brilliant young people the commission has worked with. There has already been a significant amount of interest in the report and I am sure this will continue.
Now that Parliament is back, I will be doing everything I can to ensure that the Prime Minister and other MPs have read it. I will also be raising the report’s recommendations whenever and wherever I can.
If you would like to read it, the report is available on the Youth Violence Commission website. You can also watch a recording of the launch event on the site: www.yvcommission.com