I am the Founder of the registered Let’s Get Talking Education Charity. We design award-winning education resources which are available at www.letsgettalking.org (LGT). I am also the Co-Founder with my daughter Annie of @crystalmagic22 on Instagram and Sue’s Spiritual Sanctuary. I have been a Freeman of the City of London for ten years, a member of the Worshipful Company of Educators, and board member of The British Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAWE) a prestigious organisation.
We have huge and long-standing knife crime problems in the UK. We are still burying our stabbed young people; mothers and fathers are crying out for their children and will do so for the rest of their lives. In 2008 we saw a record 29 fatalities, along with many more injuries caused by stabbings. 2021 has just ended, and we all know what the tally is now. It just gets worse. The inspiration for my work increased with the deaths of both Ben Kinsella and Damilola Taylor who was just ten years old, stabbed in the leg on a damp dark stairway where he was left to die. There as so many more Damilola’s now. His legacy is the Damilola Taylor Trust (DTT); to this day after twenty years, they like us at Let’s Get Talking , are still working hard to stop knife crime.
Why? Well, here are just a few reasons to think about.
Violent vicious killers are on our dangerous streets. Poor mental health, an inability to express emotions, hopelessness, no respect for life, and death too, are their travelling companions. Government needs to toughen up knife crime sentences, but we also need to tackle root causes. Early Adverse Childhood Experiences can include things like physical and emotional abuse, neglect, care-giver mental illness, verbal abuse and household violence. Collaboration is essential between health services, and those who are responsible for education, in order that the child can access the right support.
Early education is key to explaining the devastation to all involved caused by stabbings and murders; LGT educates children as young as eight up to twenty years old. We stop knife crime with our programmes and help them to make the right informed choices and decisions for their futures. It is extraordinary that there are children on our streets who feel the need to wear stab vests. Parental role models whose own lives have been blighted by alcohol, drugs, or crime, create a dangerous vacuum ready to fill the emptied lives of such children. At LTF, we applaud such excellent projects as the Daniel Baird Foundation who have invented Bleed Kits and circulated them around the UK in many venues and places where experience shows they may be needed. See www.controlthebleed.org.uk. There are many others.
Social Media/YouTube/PlayStation and videos with the potential for causing damage to young impressionable mind need controlling. Those who immorally host these must take responsibility, and act accordingly. What they permit when they should not, can lead to people dying.
The way we are policed must surely change. More police are needed on streets although a lot of young people do not trust the police to keep them safe, so they are alone and exposed to peer pressure, gangs, and failed drug prohibition. This trust gap needs to be closed. The police too need to be helped to do this.
There is another phenomenon at play. Some young people have no fear of prison, nor of the police. Half of knife crime murders are committed by under 25’s. Killings will continue as long as they remain in denial about the consequences of carrying or using a knife. Knives are still sold unpackaged and are too easy to thieve.
The fact is I suspect that everyone really knows what needs to be done. Our social services, youth organisations, and our understanding of what makes young people tick need far greater attention. Ordinary healthy human interaction has been replaced by screens and dangerous videos. The way we describe failure in the young has to be radically reappraised and addressed.
DRUGS and EDUCATION – The connection between violence, and ‘County lines’ drug dealing is well established. Alongside all the efforts being made to replace the financial attractions that membership of these drug gangs brings, there needs to be a top-down reappraisal of the reasons why children find this more attractive, despite its dangers; and to replace it with something more enticing. These children, who now see with lost and soulless eyes, should be the most important of issues to address with a long-term governmental plan. Solid action is required to remove the means of livelihood from these gangs and replace them with different options.
But what about the way we educate too. Education at all ages from aged eight up to twenty is essential. Alternatives must be made more attractive. Any child affected by food poverty should be identified and helped. Children should be taught to see the companionship and advantage of just joining healthy activity. LGT’s Youth Projects/Cadets/National Citizen Service/sport and creative activities are needed more now than ever. Over twenty years ago, I was a Tutor in Charge in Islington Youth Service when the biggest cuts to Children’s Services decimated so many clubs and did so much damage. This where we find the root of such violence. I spent three years writing my adolescent topic-based award-winning card sets and bringing psychology, and talking therapy Talkshops into our programmes, back to basics, speaking to each other. Oracy, supporting children and young people to enable them to communicate and make conversation again, is now being bought back into the National Curriculum too. They need to find their voices, tell their stories, and be listened to with respect and support.
All schools, every community centre, the police, and youth groups need to do more. Some schools will not admit to the violence or bullying going on at their school. They need to make Anti Knife Crime, Gangs and Violence a part of their Personal, Social, Health Education PSHE National curriculum work for at least two hours per week. These lessons are as important as Maths, English and Science, and must now become part of the curriculum. After all, it is well recognised now that brain development makes some young people terribly vulnerable to the attractions of a dangerous, briefly alluring alternative life. Our emergency services are stretched, injuries grow at an alarming rate, and surgeons are left to mend the pieces. We have bequeathed our children a health crisis at the stage where any life should blossom.
Yes, all this needs funding, but there is also a potentially huge return on investment for providing the funds in the first place. Police then can be more visible and equipped to deal constructively with this issue of national concern daily illustrated by our media. Schools need to be helped too. Together these measures can reduce the devastation and heartbreak of so many families and communities, and to the NHS. Our police need to be supported by laws that they remain fit for the purpose they were designed, which is to end the violence on our streets.
In the end, despite the good work being done by MOPAC/VRU in London, there needs to be more imagination applied from the heart of national government to the long-term planning of our towns and cities, so that the temporary financial fixes applied to local problems are not the only available solution. The leaders of all our London boroughs need to plan in collaboration with each other to reduce the violence on the streets, to plan within their boroughs to guarantee the long-term health of our children and families, and to bring whatever pressure is necessary to see that this happens. We can help them too. If our young people are not our absolute priority, then we have all lost our way.
Sue Scott-Horne Founder, Let’s Get Talking Charity