The continual and heartbreaking destruction of young lives in our city is not inevitable. As Mayor of London, I would focus my resources on what works to prevent crime and keep people safe.
With three more lives lost in Ilford on Sunday night, London needs to face facts: we cannot protect our children and young adults from violence when the services they rely upon are slashed to the bone.
While the headline Mayor election crime debate has involved much shouting about police numbers, in City Hall I’ve been quietly getting on with making a practical difference, exposing and helping to fill huge gaps in the youth services that are a vital plank of the wider support services that are being cut across the country.
In annual reports as an Assembly Member, I have exposed the haemorrhaging of funding to youth work in London. Council budgets are down by nearly half since 2011, with more than 100 projects closing their doors and over 500 youth workers losing their jobs, leaving young Londoners less supported to thrive, and more vulnerable to pressures to get into trouble.
This work, and my budget proposals to the Mayor, led to the creation of the Young Londoners’ Fund in 2018. It began a year later than I first suggested it, but the fund has so far contributed £39 million to youth support.
In contrast, the Conservative candidate for Mayor, Shaun Bailey has not used his place in the Assembly to help in the same practical way. I often despair at the quality of the debates in Mayor’s Question Time, where tit for tat Conservative and Labour squabbling often breaks out over whether the Mayor or the Government is to blame for cuts in policing.
Senior police agree that increasing officer numbers alone will not solve violence, and that real community policing, where officers have time to get to know the other people supporting communities, is a key part of prevention. Meanwhile, people on the ground warn that the current ‘taskforce’ approach, which parachutes special squads into local areas when problems break out, risks alienating Londoners and making things worse in the long term.
My Assembly work on the Police and Crime Committee has meant listening to councillors and officers from Glasgow and the West Midlands who have been leading the way with new public health models for reducing violence. Unlike Shaun Bailey, I know that we don’t need to look as far afield as New York, or as far back as a discredited ‘broken windows’ theory, when the best ideas lie much closer to home.
London has taken the first steps in launching its own violence reduction unit (VRU) to work against all kinds of violent crime. However, to work at its best, I believe this must be independent of both the local authorities and the police. If I become Mayor, I would therefore separate it from the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) and find ways to invest even more in building up our children’s lives and resilience.
My approach is backed by the work of the politically independent Youth Violence Commission, whose interim report last year said: “As we learnt from Scotland’s success, a public health approach requires whole-system, cultural and organisational change supported by sustained political backing. Anything short of this will fail.”
Listening to Londoners and evidence-based ideas, with more funding and political will is what is needed to solve our problems.
I’ll deliver all of this — because Londoners’ lives depend on it.