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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Chuka Umunna urges 'paradigm shift' in approach to tackling youth violence

Written by Harriet Line

Politicians from all sides have failed to deal with rising levels of youth violence, Labour's Chuka Umunna has claimed, as he called for knife crime to be treated like a disease.

The Streatham MP said he believed a public health model - which he said had been used "very successfully" in Scotland to reduce stabbings - could substantially lessen bloodshed on the streets in two or three years.

But Mr Umunna, who used a speech in Brixton, south London, to lambast the failure of criminalising teenagers to stop violence, warned: "You cannot deliver that model without whole system, cultural and organisational change with sustained political backing."

He told the Press Association: "I think all actors, all different state agencies, politicians collectively, have failed to adequately deal with this problem.

"It's easy to play politics and say if you're Labour it's a Conservative prime minister, if you're Conservative it's a Labour mayor that's at fault here: that's not going to get us anywhere.

"We all collectively need to act and make this a national mission and priority."

Mr Umunna, who is a member of the Government's Serious Violence Taskforce, said he did not know if youth violence could ever be eradicated, but believed it could be "substantially" reduced with a "holistic" public health approach.

"Not just seeing this as an issue of enforcement and broken families, and not just seeing it as something where you can just spend more money, you can spend your way out of the problem - but actually properly tackling not just the economic but some of the cultural issues behind what is going on," he said.

As a trustee of the 409 Project, a Brixton charity working with teens at risk of offending, Mr Umunna gave a speech in August 2007 lamenting the 17 London teenagers shot or stabbed to death that year.

"It was grim," he told the audience. "But here we are today, 11 years later, and already this year more than 20 teenagers have been murdered in London alone."

"A lot has changed over the last decade but it shames our society that the bloodshed continues and we now need to take a fresh look at this problem because we have failed to stop the tragedy."

Mr Umunna called for a "paradigm shift" in how serious youth violence is understood.

He said: "The populism of left and right both here and in Europe has reduced politics to simple, black and white, tweetable answers to every problem. One side thinks the answer is to throw money at the problem and pull the levers of state. The other argues for ever tougher sanctions.

"Nothing illustrates the futility of these responses more than the issue of serious youth violence which is a complex and a very modern phenomenon. Instead of relying on old solutions that don't work, we need a paradigm shift in our understanding of serious youth violence and in the action we take to stop it."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Knife crime has devastating consequences on our communities, and our Serious Violence Strategy signals a step change in balancing a law enforcement response with a multi-agency approach."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Victoria Jones / PA Wire.