Lib Peck – Violence Reduction Units: Driving Forward a Preventative, Public Health Approach
In 2019 violence cost 149 Londoners their lives. Financially it cost the capital £3 billion. Neither statistic comes close to representing the incalculable emotional pain and cost to families, friends, and communities. But what these two statistics do provide is a hugely compelling case for a different approach to tackling violence.
In London we have adopted a preventative, public health approach that is rooted in 15 years of Scottish experience. This approach has already demonstrated elsewhere that violence is preventable, and is strongly supported by the Mayor of London through the establishment of a London Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). Our model first identifies and then tackles the real long-term drivers of violence. This requires working genuinely with communities and young people, convening and aligning the policies and priorities of public sector partners, and building a coalition of voices that can demand relevant policy change.
This report comes at a timely moment for the London VRU, a year after we started our mission to reduce violent crime in the capital. The report suggests that we are on the right path with what we’ve focused on in our first year, and it also provides evidence and recommendations that should shape our future work.
The report emphasises the importance of gathering and acting on data, collaborative working, and sustained funding.
Over the last year, we have focused on building our data and evidence. Our blend of public health, public perception of safety, and crime statistics gave us a sharper focus for action. A project with the Information Commissioner’s Office is helping to break down organisational barriers to information sharing. More recently, the first ever capital-wide assessment of violence alongside an analysis of the reviews of homicides revealed a gap in our collective learning. With this new data, we are now pressing the government to establish a mechanism for funded statutory reviews to take place for all homicides.
An equally valid source of data on what and why violence is occurring is the evidence Londoners have shared with us from their personal experiences. The team prioritises getting out of City Hall to talk and, critically, listen to communities directly affected by violence. They tell us what they think the key challenges are and suggest what needs to be done now and in the longer term. Our commitment to this form of engagement will only intensify with a Young Leaders Programme and more community-led funded programmes.
It is this rich data and intelligence we’ve drawn on to inform our £15.8 million spending programme. In a short timeframe we’ve tried to prioritise funding collaborative bids, to fill the known gaps in provision and to back small, innovative projects from which we can learn.
These insights have empowered us to invest in youth workers, often the most neglected professions but one of the most important for young people. We have also added extra support for young people who have been exposed to trauma. And, we have invested in school inclusion programmes, alongside providing more tailored guidance and opportunities to those young people excluded from mainstream.
Of course, the context is as important as the person. Three-quarters of the boroughs in London with the highest levels of violent offending are also in the top ten most deprived. We have supported local authorities and local partnerships to develop borough violence reduction plans; and invested in community leaders and capacity for the grassroots sector. We want our place-based work to go deeper to tackle violence at a neighbourhood level and to make sure we extend our focus to exploring issues around vulnerability, exploitation, and safeguarding.
One of the strongest powers of the Mayoral office is its convening and influencing role. We are drawing on that to build pan London alliances. ‘Working together’ is a mantra that trips easily off the tongue but is much, much harder to do effectively and genuinely.
We have prioritised extending and strengthening existing networks where we can. Drawing on the public sector partnership which guides the Unit, we have forged early positive relationships with the NHS and the Met. We are excited by the Young People’s Advisory Board, the growing schools network, and the convening of our charities group. Partnership isn’t always easy in a city with as much complexity as London, but we know that it’s essential if London is to reduce violence and increase feelings of safety.
Over the next year, we want to do more, and do better – from data sharing and evaluation to programme development and partnership growth. We will be making the case for long-term, sustainable funding for community groups, greater joint working from the charity sector, and much more alignment from the public sector.
We need to shift the message around violence and to make an irrefutable case for greater funding for prevention. The connections and evidence that this report brings together will be a great source of support and guidance.
Lib Peck is Director of the London Violence Reduction Unit