My former and most esteemed colleague John Sutherland regularly asks anguished questions around the prevalence of knife crime – as each murder is reported, John rightly points out the waste and tragic loss experienced and asks simply – why?
Why indeed. It is too easy to say that there is a culture of knife carrying, that gangs promote violence, that drug dealing is at the root of this, that the Police have lost control of the streets. The truth is that there is a little bit of each of those things fuelling the violence, and that certainly the challenges facing policing have meant that fewer officers are carrying out visible patrol and able to intervene before things become fatal.
Solving the knife crime issue is truly a wicked problem – knowledge regarding the cause is probably not sufficient, everyone has an opinion, solutions are likely to be expensive and the issue itself is connected with so many other factors including deprivation, loss of social cohesion, perceived status, responses to threat, street level control, gang identity and a whole range of factors that all mean this threat is live and current.
Wicked problems are not solved by single approaches. The Police, so often blamed when crime escalates, have a role to play in both prevention and detection but do so relatively tactically – the Police cannot, for instance, fix social deprivation or alone build social cohesion. They are most certainly part of the solution, but not the solution itself. A physical presence on the street can help to prevent crime, removing knives through stop searches and simply enforcing order through officer presence. However, that effect is limited – limited by the duration of the presence, the availability of resource, the scale of the presence and other demand requiring attention. The much hailed ‘task force’ to tackle violent crime on the streets of our capital will, no doubt, have an effect. During the course of my policing career I introduced similar approaches to solve issues with the night time economy, burglary and street robberies. They all had a fairly immediate effect, sometimes however merely displacing the issue in to another area or even in some cases leading people to change the type of crime they were committing to one that received less attention. However, these effects are beneficial because they allow for other things to happen. Firstly, communities themselves can see a difference and start to take steps to recover. Secondly, and probably more important, other agencies can step in and start to bring about more lasting change by tackling the underlying issues.
That second element, the work and resource of other agencies, is however one that is so dramatically challenged now as a result of the huge cuts in public services.
Many years ago I was involved in the introduction of treatment for drugs users who were habitually committing crime to fund their habits. In many instances they were having to raise hundreds of pounds a day to fund their addiction, committing crime of many times that value to do so. The Police could, and did, keep locking them up and sending them before the Courts. Sometimes they would get custodial sentences, during which crime levels would fall slightly as they were detained. On release, the cycle would start again. It was not rocket science to deduce that tackling their addiction would probably solve the commission of crime – and hey presto, when addiction was tackled because resource was made available and treatment provided – crime fell! Dramatically in fact – reducing burglaries by many hundreds of crimes a year. If those treatment options are not available, addiction will not be treated and we will be back in the old routine. This is but one example where societal problems are reliant upon services from many agencies to bring about change.
Those with a right realist perspective will tell us that incarceration, self control and harsh sentences for drugs dealing are the solutions to the problem of acquisitive drugs related crime. Those with a left realist perspective will say we have to treat the offender and societal issues. My position is between the two. There is a role to play in enforcing the law and using custodial provision to remove those who cause or may cause most harm. However, in isolation this merely curtails offending, it does not stop it – and it does not stop the next generation and the next generation and the next generation from treading the same path.
We are the 5th largest economy in the world (currently). On the Credit Suisse calculation of global wealth, for both median and mean wealth the UK is comfortably in the top 13 countries. However, that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a relative few and as well as having very wealthy citizens, we also have many very poor ones. Of course, poverty alone does not predicate involvement in crime. Many with low or no income live lawful lives, desperate for the opportunity to realise their potential and lift themselves out of poverty. It is disheartening to see recently a prominent and extremely wealthy member of the House of Lords denigrate those who point out the economic divisions in this country by branding those in poverty as lazy, incompetent or unambitious. Poverty is a trap. Poverty reduces opportunity, making the person in poverty turn their attention to the basics of living – finding food, housing and those things that sustain their life. For those with wealth, those things are done so easily that they are not even thought about. No food in the house? Eat out. No heating? Find a hotel. For those in poverty – no food in the house? Go hungry. No heating? Be cold.
At this time of year, our attention is so often drawn to those who have nothing. Shelters open for the homeless, food is donated and succour provided for the poor. It is right and proper that this happens. It is sad beyond words that the demand for such things continues to grow, and that in our wonderful country too many bloat on wealth beyond comprehension, avarice fuelled and damn thy neighbour whilst so many struggle to find the basics of every day life.
At UKP, we work hard to pay the UK real living wage, recognising that both the national minimum and national living wage , whilst important, may reflect only part of the picture. We hope by doing so that we show our staff that we care, that we value their work and that we believe in paying a fair days pay for a fair days work. Whilst we are a growing company, our contribution to the overall earnings pot in the UK is small – but it does support people to live, pay taxes, contribute to society and therefore help to be part of the wider solution to complex societal problems. We are proud of what we do, proud to be a caring employer and provider.
There will be one more blog before Santa comes to call so watch this space for that one – in the meantime, eat drink and be merry (but cut the middle one out if you are driving) be safe, be happy and love those you cherish. That’s my homily for this week – more next!