Country Show InsideOut zone
Country Show InsideOut zone

Cllr Mohammed Seedat writes about working with our communities to deliver community safety. 

The Mayor’s call that we must not only tackle crime but the causes of crime, is a welcome challenge to a Government which has cut police, NHS, schools and council budgets creating an environment in which violent crime has soared.

The Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into the 70% rise in knife violence across the country came to a strong conclusion:

“…recent rises in serious youth violence are a social emergency, which must be addressed through much more concerted Government action at a national and local level. We have concluded that the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy is a completely inadequate response to this wave of violence blighting our communities. It contains no targets or milestones, few new actions, and no clear mechanisms for driving forward activity at a national and regional level…”

Tackling crime

In Lambeth, we have struggled with high levels of violence – often linked to a drugs trade which exploits children – boys and girls. In April, we sent a letter to the then Prime Minister and Home Secretary outlining 6 immediate actions that need to be taken (nationally) to tackle serious violence:

  1. Deploy additional border resource to stem the flow of drugs, weapons and human trafficking into this country, arguably at the root of the surge in serious violence.
  2. Deploy a well-resourced national response to the ‘County Lines’ phenomenon, which is built on child grooming and child (including sexual) exploitation, both of which are a form of modern slavery.
  3. Increase the scrutiny of social media platforms which are fuelling humiliation-based violence.
  4. Increase the provision of training for police and associated agencies to be able to use modern anti-slavery legislation in ‘gang’ related cases.
  5. Increase provision for evidence-based youth programs, including trauma and emotional support programs for children from primary school age.
  6. Increase resources and support for police forces to allow meaningful community policing and engagement, to build trust and consent.

A massive ‘County Lines’ operation based in Lambeth was recently uncovered. 16 people have been sentenced to a combined 61 years. The extent and sophistication of the operation, covering South England, demonstrated the urgent need for more resources for the police and more help for drug users.

London has lost over 3000 police officers, with cuts to the Met police totalling £1 billion by 2023. Drug rehabilitation programs across England have been slashed by £162 million since 2014, resulting in a 26% rise of drug related deaths.

In Lambeth, we continue to invest in helping people with long-term addictions: Councillor Gadsby recently opened a new hostel to help homeless people recovering from addictions, and we continue to fund rehabilitation services for people who need significant help to change their lives due to drug abuse.

Tackling the causes of crime

The arrest of 16 people running the Lambeth based ‘County Lines’ was a major success for the Metropolitan & Kent Police, protecting communities and preventing more children being exploited. However, the operation also demonstrated the extent and nature of interventions in the lives of the perpetrators.

At least half of the sentenced were known to local charities from a young age –14 of the arrested are 25 or under. Most of the arrested and their families were known to local authorities. The background and subsequent journeys of the arrested are familiar and recurring – deprivation, family breakdowns, violence against the mother, homelessness, care homes, refuges, substance abuse, negative peer-groups, historical criminality, school exclusions, traumas, and few if any loving family figures. For some, the result is a lack of opportunities from a young age making easy prey for older criminals. (See: Lambeth Violence Needs Assessment 2015).

That is why in Lambeth we have taken a long-term approach to violence reduction – intervening earlier where possible so that ambitions for a young person do not become limited to their current situation.

A long-term violence reduction approach necessitates increasing opportunities, especially for young people from backgrounds that are underrepresented across industry. We have committed an additional £1 million to complement to the mayor’s £45 million Young Londoners Fund and £7 million awarded to the new London Violence Reduction Unit so that preventative services can support those that need help and encouragement.

Creating opportunities means continuing to support projects like Ebony Horse Club, who’s young inspirational rider Khadija just won the Goodwood Race and Oasis – who are campaigning to turn the former Kennington Police Station in to a Community Hub.

It also means developing exciting programs like ‘Elevate’ which encourages young people from any background to take advantage of Lambeth & London’s world-class creative and digital industries.

Developing opportunities for young people also means empowering them. At the Lambeth Country Show 2019 there was a new addition: the InsideOut zone, which was a wonderful celebration of Lambeth’s young talent and was completely organised by young people.

Our work to empower communities is taking place at a very local level. In Tulse Hill, the council’s Early Help program is bringing together schools, GPs, community activists, police and council officers to ensure assistance is available to families who need it. More importantly, it is developing a different way of working with the community so that communities are driving positive change. A similar program already operates in the Streatham area and will be adapted for the Loughborough Junction and Clapham Park areas in the coming months.

The council’s generational approach to violence reduction cannot happen without our partners – schools, police, NHS, justice and crucially the community groups who often hold together the fabric of our communities.

Meetings have taken place over the past year across the borough discussing the difficult issues many families face and what could be done. In April over 50 of Lambeth’s 3rd sector/charities helped to develop concrete action plans. Further workshops will be announced in the coming months, all with a view to co-producing a better way of working together, so that this generation and the next are not only safe, but thriving.

In 2018, the council agreed to use a ‘public health’ model for violence reduction – in short we are working with partners to tackle crime and tackle the causes of crime. Now we need the government to do its part – invest in the police, councils and schools so that all young people can achieve their potential.

Watch highlights of 1st community-led Violence Reduction Action Plans workshop here.

Cllr Mohammed Seedat

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