Knife crime is a symptom of a disease in our society – Christine Jardine

The dominant issue of youth culture is not music, clothes or even drugs – but alarming rates of knife crime, writes Christine Jardine.

It doesn’t matter what age your child is, you never stop worrying about them.

As a 40-year-old, married mum, I regularly had to let my own mother know when I had arrived home safely from whatever trip I’d been on.

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But it’s possibly the teenage years which are the ones which bring the greatest anxiety. And that was never truer than at the moment.

Jodie Chesney, 17, was fatally stabbed in a park in Romford, east London, earlier this month (Picture: AFP/Getty)

Preparing to do a TV appearance this week, the make-up artist and I were chatting about the subject that is at the forefront of almost every parent’s mind at the moment.

The frightening and escalating problem of knife attacks. This was in London, where the woman I was chatting with lived in what she described as having always been regarded as “a nice, safe, reasonably well-to-do area”.

But the current atmosphere has her worried every time her daughter leaves the house. The tragic roll-call of names is now almost weekly.

The number of young people being fatally stabbed on the UK’s streets has prompted warnings of a national emergency. In Edinburgh, we are not immune, and in recent weeks have had several stark reminders.

In 2019, the dominant issue of youth culture is no longer music, clothes or even drugs.

Too many parents currently spend the time that their children are out with their friends fearing that, instead of the reassuring sound of their teenager returning home, the evening will end with a knock at the door.

Not so long ago we thought that, as a country, we were finally on our way to getting the scourge of knife crime under control.

But a 12 per cent rise in stabbings in England alone last year last year tells a different story.

In Scotland we have rightly praised the turnaround in Glasgow’s knife culture, and while we mustn’t be complacent, perhaps it offered lessons we should already be putting into practice across the country.

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And yet there is still a feeling that while we won that battle we are somehow losing the war.

Even the Home Secretary has said that, because of the spike in knife crime, he often stays up into the early hours waiting for his eldest daughter to get back home.

He has vowed to treat it as a disease, but if the senior politicians who are responsible for keeping our streets safe are this worried about their own kids, how can the public ever feel reassured?

Just over two months into the year and already the death toll is close to 30 and rising. Two of those deaths were within the first six hours of 2019.

The problem is at its worse, of course, in London.

When children are excluded from school and see their youth centres closed, it’s hardly surprising that so many of them fall into the grip of gangs.

And when they see fewer and fewer police officers on the streets, some claim that encourages young people to start carrying knives for protection when they believe others may be doing the same.

There can be no doubt that unnecessary cuts have made communities less safe, and the victims of knife crime and their families deserve better.

We are always told that the Government’s first duty is to keep people safe. On their own terms, they are failing.

But there seems to be disagreement at the top of Government about the causes of this epidemic, or rather, over whether to admit it.

The Home Secretary last week admitted that police resources are important in tackling the problem, amid a backlash against Theresa May’s reluctance to acknowledge a link between officer numbers and bloodshed.

I can’t help be frustrated that many are increasingly obsessed with what is only one aspect of the problem.

It runs much deeper than policing and it could even be argued that once it becomes a policing issue you have already lost.

In Glasgow, the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU] proposed what was then a fresh approach to tackling the problem of gang-related knife crime.

Drawing heavily on the experience of the American city of Boston, it was decided this was not just a policing issue but a public health issue.

And to get to grips with it, the VRU worked closely with the NHS, education and social work bodies.

In the 12 years from 2005 until 2017, murders across Scotland were halved with the biggest impact in Glasgow, which had started out with more than the half the total national rate.

There were many facets to the programme but the biggest single lesson it taught us, surely, was that the knife crime was not the problem itself but the horrible, maiming, life-ending symptom of a disease in society.

Lock people out, deny them hope and they will choose, what they see as, the only path open to them.

I have seen it myself. I grew up in a working-class area where opportunity did not extend to everyone.

Covering a court case years into my career as a journalist, I came face to face with a boy who had been in my class at primary school.

He had been what the adults liked to call “a cheeky charmer”. He was the class comedian and we all loved him. Now I was the successful journalist and he was in the dock accused of attempted murder.

And it was far from his first offence. It still bothers me that two children from the same place could end up in two such different situations.

In that career, and my subsequent one in politics, I have been privileged to meet many people who work in the most difficult, challenging and often heart-breaking roles because they are driven to help young people achieve their potential.

One of them, who was working with young men who had got into trouble and were trying to rebuild their lives, told me that all any of those men really wanted was a decent life and a way to look after themselves and a family if they had one.

That is what I hold on to. Give people a better life, better opportunities and maybe, just maybe we will be able to work our way to the solution.