Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

We need to tackle violence as a public health issue - Southwark News Column


Most of us who live in Southwark think it’s a great place to live.  Vibrant and close to the heart of London, it has so much going for it. 

But there’s an issue which casts a shadow over our borough, and indeed our great city, and that is the increase in the number of murders.

2018 saw the highest number of people killed in London in a decade.   Last year 132 people were killed.  And for each one of the victims there are devastated parents, husbands, wives, children, friends and communities left behind.

Many young people involved in crime will have problems at home, been expelled from school at a young age, or themselves have been victims of crime.

For every young man who ends up in the dock accused of a killing, there are parents, teachers, neighbours and many others who’ve seen the warning signs and who’ve been unable to prevent the downward drift into crime.

That means better information for parents who are worried about a child but don’t know who to turn to.

It means a quick response and effective support when parents do call out for help with a youngster who’s getting into trouble.

It means a higher level of support for young people leaving care.

And we need to ensure that all the agencies have the resources they need to step in before a problem develops into a crisis. That means the child and adolescent mental health services as well as the police.

This approach would be what is described as a “public health” approach to youth crime.  Seeing it in the same way as an infectious disease, treating people early but above all prevention being better than cure.

Lewisham and Deptford’s MP Vicky Foxcroft has been pressing for this approach by setting up the Youth Violence Commission.  Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones has set up an all-party group of MPs on knife crime – of which I’m a member.  And the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, is setting up a new Violence Reduction Unit to address the root causes of violence.

But there can be no doubt that all this work is hampered by the cuts to school budgets, to youth services and to the police.

Southwark has lost 200 police officers and Police Community Support Officers since 2010. Eight  years of cuts from the Tory government have undoubtedly made the problems worse.

There has, rightly, been a big focus on the lives of young men lost to gang violence. But we must never lose sight of the fact that there also remains a persistent high number of women being killed by their husbands or boyfriends – domestic homicide.

In London last year almost as many people lost their lives to domestic violence as to gang violence. The loss of women’s lives at the hands of the men they live with also needs to be focussed on.  It cannot be treated as something that is inevitable and that we can do nothing about.  As with gang crime there are nearly always warning signs which could and should have been acted on.

Southwark is a great place to live.  But too many people are dying violent deaths.  It needs working together, but it must mean more resources from government and an end to the cuts.  Otherwise the horrific death toll will just get worse.

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