Knife crime is rapidly becoming one of the main threats to youth in the UK, especially in large cities. Cases are especially predominant in London, Birmingham, and Manchester and are reaching record highs. The government is not doing much to tackle this issue, so this is likely to be a substantial problem for the foreseeable future.
In the past, knife crime was seen as a gang issue or a criminal issue, but it is increasingly becoming a method of unprovoked attack—especially on children. In March of this year, 17-year-old Ayub Hassan was stabbed and killed outside a Kensington Waitrose. One of the four accused of his murder was just 15 (as reported by the Independent, 8th March), and all were teenagers. This attack was the fourth attempt on his life, so it is clear that something could have been done to prevent this from happening.
The stereotypes and the negative connotations that surround the assumptions of knife crime may also be preventing some people who believe they are at risk or know someone who may be dangerous from speaking out. We see children killed and injured in this way and are becoming desensitised to stories about it on the news.
On some level, it is understandable that it is incredibly difficult to find a solution to these rising numbers. MPs are constantly being bombarded with statistics, opinions, and often other significant issues. To come to an agreement about one thing is always a tricky task; however, with something as important and fatal as this that does not make for a valid excuse. In part it could also be that we ourselves are not doing enough. How many people make reports about suspicious behaviour they see, and how many people step in when they see violence on the streets? Neighbourhood watch schemes are becoming a thing of the past despite increasing need for such systems, and there is an ongoing shortage of police officers on our streets. This is not only a government issue this has become a social and cultural issue.
It is difficult to infer why the UK specifically struggles so much with stabbings. The UK has a much lower homicide rate than many other European countries, but the knife crime epidemic is closing this gap. There is clearly a problem which has not been addressed. A freedom of information request released in 2016 revealed that in 2015 almost 27,500 offences involving a sharp weapon took place in the UK. By 2018, that number had risen to 39,818 (Office of National Statistics, BBC). Although it is not the focus of this piece it is also important to remember that the vast majority of violent attacks actually involve no weapons at all.
It is difficult to decipher why reported knife injuries are rising so rapidly, but reasons might include the availability of knives, lack of education in schools about the effects of violence in society, and the ease with which many perpetrators can commit these crimes. Additionally, with many of the offenders being below 18 years of age, a knife is one of the only weapons they are able to get hold of—in their parents’ homes, in supermarkets, or even at school or places of work.
The main problem here is finding a solution. The government is frequently called upon to act, but nobody seems to have a suggestion for what this action could be. When MP Scott Mann suggested in a tweet that putting GPS trackers on knives could help prevent knife crime and locate offenders he was ridiculed. And while yes, this idea was impractical, very few of those saying so had alternative suggestions. Mann stated, "No one else is coming up with any ideas, people can shoot me down if they like but people are being stabbed on the streets and we need to do something about it… People have come up with no suggestions.” Other suggestions we have seen include judge Nic Madge suggesting we file down kitchen knives and do not allow the sale of those with a sharp point as ordinary chefs rarely use these points (Telegraph, 2018), journalist Charlotte Leslie proposed harsher punishments as a solution years ago (Guardian, 2008), and MP Sarah Jones has proposed a ten year approach which would focus upon education, information, and funding for those struggling with education (Guardian 2017). None of these solutions are very likely to occur and it is hard to say if they would have the impact to actually create a safer environment in practice.
Finding a solution is not easy. People who are buying knives for culinary and household purposes are not going to want to be tracked via GPS and nor would it be reasonable to do so. Those buying knives do not want to be put on a database—this would be of very little help anyway, with almost every household in the UK housing an array of sharp kitchen knives.
The solution must come from government officials focusing on the education of young people, assisting those struggling in the local communities who may go on to pose a threat by reintroducing youth groups and providing further support for those who may potentially become a threat. For children like Ayub Hassan, who knew his life was at risk, support from local law enforcement or another local authority may have helped to save his life. This is not a policy issue alone; an approach that incorporates changes in society and support for vulnerable individuals and areas is also needed.
So far in 2019 we have already seen over 100 deaths due to stabbings taking place across the United Kingdom (BBC figure, 17th May, 2019). The victims are usually men under the age of 30. In England and Wales this averages at one fatal stabbing every 1.45 days this year. The last few years have seen the most fatalities since records began. This is one of the most important social issues in the UK today.
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