Last year seventeen young people tragically lost their lives to serious youth violence in London, and we have seen tragedy in many other communities throughout the UK.
Serious youth violence and the proliferation of gang related activity hit the UK headlines back in 2007, starting with the shooting of Andre Smartt-Ford in broad daylight at the ice rink in my constituency, and 2008 saw the situation on London’s streets reach crisis levels – with 29 teenagers losing their lives.
Although the number of fatalities abated in the years that followed, the problem continues.
Serious youth violence offences have increased by 13.4% and the number of offences the Metropolitan Police associates with within gang activity has increased by 25% in the last three years.
The reasons for what is happening are many and varied, but are not new.
It isn’t simply a case of whether young perpetrators come from chaotic families – as many come from stable family units – although clearly issues such as domestic violence and the time parents have available to spend with their children are very important.
Popular culture which glamourises a “gang lifestyle”, lack of services and opportunities for young people, and many other contributors are also at play.
Enough is enough.
Labour in government introduced the notion of “Every Child Matters”, where the aim was to provide wrap around care for children before school started until after long after school finished.
I think it is high time we adopted an “Every Teenager Matters” approach – a more targeted version of that initiative to address what is happening in terms of youth violence, but more broadly to improve the wellbeing and opportunities for all young people.
We need to elevate the standing of youth work and properly fund it.
The Government should reverse their decision to disband its very important “ending gang violence” network, which is due to end in April.
We must ensure our young are properly taught in schools about the consequences of what they do.
And finally there should be a complete zero tolerance police by the police in respect of leaders of such groups – and they need to be targeted in a concentrated way.
There is more that can be done beyond these suggestions, and I’m grateful to the many young people and community groups who shared their views during my digital debate on this week.
I will be leading the first prime time debate in the House of Commons on these issues because we need action.
That starts with the Government establishing an independent all-party commission to get to the bottom of this once and for all, but there is so much more that needs to be done to stop the tragedy that continues to blight the lives of the next generation.s