Mat Ilic: Giving Back Control
This might sound strange, but even sat at a desk in the country’s most famous building and a few rooms away from the Prime Minister, there are days when you feel completely powerless in the fight against serious youth violence. The morning after a teenage murder has happened in faraway Manchester, for example; or the day that you are due to meet bereaved families to try and comprehend what more can be done through victim support services. There can be a lack of grip and control; but there is seldom a shortage of sympathy and concern.
I have been engaged in work surrounding this issue for the past decade, from City Hall to Whitehall, and community sector in between. As I write this, the latest crime statistics confirm that knife crime is at its highest since records began. The problem is growing and mutating, becoming more flagrant, at times even affecting young people (and adults) with no connection to criminal peers, or a background of misbehaviour or neglect. We all can, and must, do more.
Interest in social issues such as violence waxes and wanes. Concerns about crime and safety have shot up into the top five issues of matter to the public, with traditional and new media being in a position to broadcast incidents almost in real time. It is therefore no surprise that the Government is making law and order one of its principal domestic priorities. The commitment to reducing violence – through additional police funding as well as the parallel investment in Violence Reduction Units – needs to be viewed in this context. It goes without saying that the politicians will want to see results from their intervention, in the form of reduced homicides and weapon-enabled injuries, especially among young people.
Funding and legislation are two of the main things that Whitehall can deliver, and on this issue, both have been committed (the legislation being the stated intent to introduce a public health duty to prevent violence). The urgency, in response to public interest and media pressure, is crucial and welcomed. What we can demand now is more intelligent design: connecting the cash closer to the root of the problem, for example, greater precision and problem solving in policing, not simply a blunt commitment to ‘more’ stop and search).
The Commission deserves all the credit for its consistency and drive for the adoption of a public health approach to violence reduction. Adoption has happened, but long-term retention will depend on whether this works: and in order for it to work, the recommendations of this report (adopting solutions based on the ‘best available theory, data and analysis’) need to be taken on. Perhaps even more importantly, it is now for communities (defined as anything from towns, cities, local authorities, neighbourhoods) to take control and drive long term change. I think only they can. It is too important and fragile to be left to politics alone.
Mat Ilic is Chief Development Officer at Catch22 and a former Special Adviser to the Prime Minister.