Drugs, guns and poverty: the lost children

Pain: Over half of the annual 420,000 crimes committed against children are violence-related.

How to fight gang crime? According to an investigation by The Times, thousands of children — some aged 10 — are caught in a “perfect storm” of gangs and crime. Here are possible reasons why.

1/ Drugs. A Home Office report identified surging cocaine supply as a key “driver” of violent crime. From 2014 to 2017 the number of murders involving drug dealers increased. And between 2012 and 2016, convictions of children aged 10-17 for drug possession with intent to supply increased by 77%.

2/ Broken homes. “In the absence of a father, and positive male role models, young men can draw their masculine identity from the gang,” claims MP David Lammy. The number of single-parent families has decreased in recent years, from 3 million in 2015, to 2.8 million in 2017.

3/ Childhood trauma. Research shows that those with four “adverse childhood experiences”, including abuse, neglect, household drug addiction or mental illness, are 15 times more likely to be involved in violent crime later in life.

4/ Police cuts. A leaked government report stated that police cuts “likely contributed” to rising violent crime in London. Police are stretched outside the capital too: 38 of the 44 England and Wales forces have reported gang-related knife crime, with drug dealers expanding along “county lines”.

5/ Poverty. “It’s no good convincing somebody that carrying a knife isn’t the right way… if that person hasn’t got the basics around them,” claims youth worker Rhammel Afflick. Stats back this up: 15% of pupils are eligible for free school meals; but this rises to 59% of those convicted of knife possession.

6/ Social media. According to the government’s Serious Violence Strategy, social media creates an “unlimited opportunity for rivals to antagonise each other”, with mocking posts leading to “cycles of tit-for-tat violence”. Provocative “drill” music videos have also been blamed for inciting violence.

7/ School exclusions. “The number of kids excluded or off-rolled has just rocketed,” claims children’s commissioner Anne Longfield. “That seems to be fuelling the problem.” Indeed, 85% of children caught with knives have been excluded from school at some point. Some also worry that pupil referral units offer gangs opportunities to recruit.

How should gangs be tackled?

Law and order

We must come down hard, some argue. That means robust policing — introducing more stop and search if necessary — and long prison sentences for those involved. Gangs have no respect for civil society and statistics prove violent crime is rising. Strong deterrents and firm punishments are the way.

That will make things worse, others respond. Many gang members get trapped into a life of crime from a desperately young age. They must be treated as victims of our failed society. Rehabilitation, education and meaningful employment are needed. Prison and harsh policing just perpetuates the cycle.

You Decide

  1. What is the single biggest cause of gang crime?
  2. Is gang crime the fault of society, or just those involved?


  1. In pairs or small groups, consider each reason behind gang crime suggested above. Rank them in terms of how much you think each contributes to the problem. Share your thoughts with the class. Are there any differences of opinion? Now, as a class, try and decide upon a definitive ranking.
  2. Consider the following: “The UK is a more dangerous place now than it was 10 years ago.” Do your own statistical and historical research, and write a 300 word response arguing either for or against this statement.

Some People Say...

“Even gang members imagine a future that doesn’t include gangs.”

Greg Boyle

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that there has been a rise in knife crime in England and Wales. In the 12 months ending September 2017, there were 37,443 offences — a 21% increase on the previous year and the highest number of offences since 2011. Last year gun crime was up 11% compared to 2016, with a total of 6,604 offences.
What do we not know?
The exact number of children currently involved with gangs, and who those individuals are. The Metropolitan Police gang matrix database currently holds fewer than 4,000 names. The figure of 30,000 children in gangs comes from the 2013-14 Crime Survey of England and Wales in which 0.9% of children aged 10-15 self-identified as gang members. Researchers extrapolated this figure to fit with current population levels.

Word Watch

This links all the way back to the main source of the drug: Colombia, where there has been a glut in production of the coca plant.
Specifically, possession of Class A drugs. Data according to The Times.
According to a study by Public Health Wales.
Rising violent crime
Recent official statistics on recorded crime show there were 1.3 million violent crimes in England and Wales in 2017. This is an increase of 21% compared to 2016, when there were 1.1 million violent crimes recorded. In London, more than 80 new murder investigations have been launched this year.
County lines
Specifically, when gangs exploit children to deal drugs, often making them travel across counties and use dedicated mobile phone “lines” to supply drugs.
According to figures released this month by the Ministry of Justice.
Genre of rap music known for its violent lyrics and links to gang culture. The extent to which it actually incites crime is disputed.
Pupil referral units
Facility to provide education to those excluded from mainstream schooling.


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