SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 228 May 2019

Knife crime and deep cuts

Rising levels of knife crime are having a horrendous effect on our communities. From the people who lose friends and family to the fragmentation of communities which no longer feel like safe places to live, rising levels of violent crime affect us all. London in particular is becoming an increasingly dangerous, expensive and alienating place to grow up. Thirty-six people have lost their lives to violent crime so far this year in the capital.

Theresa May and her Tory government have attempted to absolve themselves of blame even though the rise in knife crime is happening on their watch. Home secretary Sajid Javid, a Tory leadership contender, has blamed teachers and NHS staff for failing to spot violent crime, saying they should face repercussions in the future. Trade unionists in these sectors are rightly outraged by this proposal, especially given the huge cuts that have been heaped on both the health service and education.

On top of the direct cuts to early support and preventative services – estimated at 60% – there are many other factors that can contribute to the rising levels of knife crime. Research suggests that most attacks on young people happen between 4pm and 6pm. Half of them involve students travelling home from school. In response, doctors in London have suggested staggering school closing times.

However, schools are at breaking point in regards to funding, to the extent that they have started turning off lights and closing early on Fridays to save money. So, rather than staggering closing times, it is necessary to campaign to bring back afterschool clubs and decent youth services. This would probably have a bigger effect as it would give students a safe and supportive place to socialise in the evenings.

Over Christmas, 130,000 children woke up in temporary accommodation and half a million families live in overcrowded conditions. Young people living in overcrowded conditions report a number of problems, from the impact on their health and the lack of privacy to effects on their ability to complete school work. With overcrowding at home and huge cuts to youth services, young people aren’t being offered a safe environment to spend their time in.

As a response to these issues, Green Party London assembly member Siân Berry has produced a briefing on the cut-backs (London’s Lost Youth Services 2019). She highlights that £145 million has been cut from youth services in London since 2011. The statistics she has collated are harrowing. Eighty-one youth centres or council-supported projects have closed and 800 full-time youth worker posts have been lost.

Following a London assembly ‘windfall’ this year from business rates, mayor Sadiq Khan put a measly £45 million into a three-year fund for youth services. That is less than a third of what has been cut. That offers only a very small respite but, on the basis of what Berry puts forward in her report, it is as far as she thinks it is possible to go in the London assembly.

Instead, Berry turns her attention "principally to central government, whose restrictions on council budgets have led to these cuts to non-statutory services that are dedicated specifically to young people". The Guardian newspaper reported her condemning "Westminster for in effect forcing local authorities to make the cuts".

This is another example of the weak alternative on offer from the Greens who experienced an electoral surge back in 2015. Other than saying we need to get rid of the Tories, Berry puts forward no other substantial suggestions of how to defend services, or how the Greens would be different if elected to local councils.

She makes two demands. Firstly, for a council tax hike. This would stoke the justifiable anger of working-class families, already struggling as they are once again expected to pay to fill funding gaps, while the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. Secondly, she has called for funding for youth services to be a statutory requirement.

Seeing these vital services protected would be positive, but it is not only a question of ring-fencing budgets for specific purposes. After all, in the absence of no-cuts, needs-based budgets, that inevitably leads to competition for funding and cuts in other areas. Therefore, it is also about campaigning for the resources to fund decent services for all.

In Scotland, for instance, the Greens did not put forward an anti-austerity alternative to Scottish National Party cuts. Due to a ‘creative’ budgeting amendment from the Greens in the Scottish parliament, they and the SNP voted through £170 million local government cuts, instead of £327 million. That is still a huge cut to funding, resulting in huge anger and some student strikes, when Argyll and Bute council threatened to cut youth services. Described as ‘tough choices’, it shows why we need councillors to vote for clear, no-cuts budgets.

Berry says we need to get rid of the Tories. We agree. They have imposed harsh austerity on councils, axing vital services and presiding over growing poverty. But that means launching a struggle to kick the Tories out rather than doing their dirty work in council chambers across England, Scotland and Wales. Whether joyously slashed or through gritted teeth and with crocodile tears, the results of cuts are the same, the loss of essential services inflicted on some of the most vulnerable in society, young and old.

Young people are growing up in an era of economic turmoil. This has seen services dismantled by austerity in order to make the working class pay for the capitalist system’s crisis. We have seen the longest fall in living standards since records began and it has been highlighted repeatedly that this generation is worse off than our parents.

The number of people satisfied with their hours continues to fall to a 45-year low. Despite demand for support services being on the rise, budgets have been slashed. Ever growing waiting times for mental health support means that 76% of children experience deterioration while waiting for help. Even the United Nations special rapporteur criticised the government for the high levels of alienation, isolation and loneliness flowing from poverty and austerity, following a twelve-day tour of the UK last November.

We need a programme that not only fights for the practical support services that can help tackle youth crime, such as funding youth services. We also need a programme that starts to tackle the problems of a generation who have been let down and offered no future by capitalism, from damp, overpriced housing to the super-exploitation of zero-hours contracts. Rising levels of crime are just the tip of the iceberg of a generation who have been left behind. We must build the fight-back for decent standards of living for all, and for a socialist alternative that can offer people a future that is worth fighting for.

Helen Pattison

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