Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove’s, speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy. 11th June 2018.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I do so, however, with a heavy heart. As many in the House will be aware, I speak from the unenviable position of having been widowed because of violent crime.
I am a mother of three children—of whom I am really proud—who have no father because of violent crime.
As the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, I have spent the past six years travelling around the country listening to and standing up for other victims of this devastating crime.
Overall, crime in this country is falling, but homicide, knife crime, gun crime and robbery are up. Reading about this on what seems to be a daily basis in our newspapers, I am saddened and hurt to see the faces of mothers who are broken-hearted at the death of their sons.
We need to do more.
Signs that a child is at risk of gang involvement or involvement in youth violence can be identified in children as young as seven.
However, no child is born with a knife or a gun in their hand. We must do something in the intervening years before those weapons become essential accessories attached to their hands. They have weapons already—hands and feet. Any strategy must start long before the children have been sucked into gangs and a hostile and violent culture.
If we are going to ask schools, youth services and local authorities to help spot and support these children, then the £40 million committed in the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy is to be welcomed, but I fear it will be a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem we have to tackle.
The challenge to tackle this issue is obviously for government but it is also for perpetrators. However, let me be clear that when I say perpetrators I do not mean only the children armed with knives or the gang leaders causing terror in our cities but also the middle-class drug users who are funding this wave of violence.
City workers who drink their fairtrade coffee out of a reusable cup during the week think nothing of the supply chain of the stuff they snort up their noses at the weekend. In my view, they are as guilty as the moped riders.
We need to change social attitudes and to stem the increase of crack cocaine use.
For example, the south-east and eastern England have seen a rise in cocaine users of a fifth in recent years. We also need to understand that the impact of this crime is not just a London problem, nor is it limited to our inner cities.
The franchising of drug supply across our country, called “county lines”, has brought violent crime into provincial towns and villages—indeed, right into the heart of our countryside.
It is a symptom of the rotten supply chain of middle-class drug-taking. For example, some of the most rural areas in the country have seen the biggest increase in violent crime. Let us be clear what that means. Let us remember what the consequences of violent crime are. It means more families in Durham, Devon, Cornwall and Cheshire are now missing a loved one or dealing with life-changing events.
The county lines issue is, however, a symptom of a rot that goes far beyond drug use.
Why are these children so vulnerable to exploitation? They are getting money that they could not dream of earning waiting tables in cafes, and the attention and respect that they are not getting in the home.
Never has it been clearer that this must be a whole-government response and a committed response from the enablers—the technology and social media companies.
It will be 11 years in August that I will have been thinking of my husband and my three young daughters. I have travelled around the country. I have been in prisons; I have been in youth offender centres. I have done documentaries and spoken to young children. All of them say, in no matter what circumstances, that they do not feel safe where they live, and they want to talk to somebody without a threat.
That is why I stand here today with a disappointed and a saddened heart because we need to look at positive alternatives, and we need to be more creative.
I stand here as well as patron of Warrington Youth Zone, which will be built next year. What is a youth zone? It is not a youth club—it is a youth zone built with respect for young children, designed by young children, because we are giving them a top-notch building.
Bolton Lads and Girls club is 10 years old, with a better David Lloyd gym than we pay hundreds of pounds for. They get a hot meal; they feel safe; they can have peer mentoring and they get an education. More importantly, they feel they have a future.
I ask the Government to be more creative in what they do.
Last Thursday, His Royal Highness Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, even spoke about how he was involved in OnSide. He said that it, “showed me how well we can do this on a scale and a level of ambition”, that His Royal Highness had never seen before—young people safe in a safe space. It is fully inclusive, culturally empowering and enriching all who come into contact.
That is what we need to create.
We need a sustainable programme, and we need something that will give respect to the children; in that way, we will get respect back.
A full transcript of this debate can be found here in Hansard.