RugbyWorks coach Tom gives his view on the ever growing issue of knife crime amongst young people. 

Stabbings in London are at their highest level in six years, with a 23 per cent rise from 2017. But while the intensity of recent violence has drawn significant publicity, it is in reality the latest episode in a narrative that has developed in plain sight for decades. The current homicide rate in London is certainly shocking compared with recent years, but nonetheless in line with the number of violent deaths in the early 1990s and 2000s. Former gang member Sephton Henry drew attention to this in a recent interview with the Guardian, “I’ve seen stabbings all my life - I’ve seen my friends die all my life. You’re talking about it now because it’s coming on to your radar.” It’s a legitimate challenge to all of us. Without truly committing to look at why these awful tragedies occur, our public grief will be heartfelt but ultimately in vain as time passes.

As RugbyWorks coaches, we are working daily with the same group of young men who are at the forefront of these recent atrocities. The steep rise in school exclusions, 44% since 2012, was recognised as a key driver of recent events in the government’s Serious Violence Strategy, published last month. Although our young people are perceptive enough not to inculpate themselves, we know that many of them are running errands for gangs for reputation and money. It is crucial to remember that this connection with school exclusion was made in the wake of the Tottenham riots seven years ago; when more than a third of those involved had been excluded from school that year. As far back as the early 90’s, school exclusion rates have been linked to spikes of violent crime amongst young adults in London.

The steep rise in school exclusions, 44% since 2012, was recognised as a key driver of recent events in the government’s Serious Violence Strategy

So what is it about school exclusion that brings it constantly into the conversation? It might be an open and shut case; those who behave poorly in school will do so outside of it, so some responded in 2011 anyway. The reality is that school exclusion is much less a cause of crime than it is a simple indicator of a young person’s propensity to offend. Crime and school exclusion grow from the same roots; low self-esteem, socioeconomic status, absent parents, low school performance, employment prospects and community deprivation are chief amongst many others. That 63% of the prison population were excluded from school at some point demonstrates this overlap. Our young people are easy targets, handpicked by gang figures who know just how listless and eager for respect they are because they were once in the same position. It is an inter-generational cycle of recruitment as unchanging and constant as the social risks that underpin it.

The reality is that school exclusion is much less a cause of crime than it is a simple indicator of a young person’s propensity to offend.

They say the first step in solving any problem is recognising that it exists. If we are to make any progress against knife crime, we have to recognise the problem in its entirety. Focussing exclusively on police numbers and stop and search powers shows that we are currently unwilling to do so. A durable solution must address the vast and complex array of causes, recognising knife crime as a much broader public health issue as Scotland has done with great success. As a RugbyWorks coach, it is clear to me that this is the only way. On one hand, we see daily how our permanently excluded young people can respond to personal support and concrete opportunities for a better future.  On the other, we can see that without this support, excluded students will continue to feature in the discussion of violent crime as they have done for decades.

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