‘We must treat violence like an epidemic’

RIP: These are some of the faces of the 73 people stabbed and killed in London this year.

How can we defeat knife crime? Britain’s soaring knife violence shows no sign of stopping, with several stabbings in recent days. Here are four ways experts say we can end the bloodshed.

1/ Education. “If you teach a child something, especially when young, it stays with them forever,” claims campaigner Patsy McKie. Some schools have already begun teaching lessons about the dangers of knives.

Just as important is keeping students in school in the first place. Researchers have identified a 40% rise in exclusions over the last three years, with areas with high exclusion rates suffering more crime.

2/ Police crackdown. As violence has increased, the use of stop and search has fallen: from 1.4 million searches in 2008 to under 400,000 in 2016. The tactic is controversial, but former police leader Brian Paddick thinks it could become “far more effective” if police worked with communities to target the right people.

Others insist this is not enough. “Arresting kids won’t stop knife crime,” writes MP David Lammy. Instead, police should fight the “veteran organised criminals” whose drug gangs ensnare them in the first place.

3/ Make it a public health issue. “We must treat violence like an epidemic,” says MP Sarah Jones. This means addressing the social causes of knife crime: poverty, poor mental health and a lack of career opportunities.

For example, in Glasgow, doctors joined police on the front line. Dr Christine Goodall went to schools to address myths about knives, including “the idea that there’s a safe place to stab someone, […] how quickly you can lose your blood volume, […] and the fact that medicine can’t save everybody.”

4/ Money for young people. “[Children] start selling drugs from when they’re 12,” says campaigner Sephton Henry. He claims that the millions spent on, for example, anti-knife crime adverts can have a more practical use: “If we gave that money to young gang members to build a business and take them off the street, I guarantee it would make more of an impact.”

Others think more youth clubs can help. In London alone, 81 clubs and projects have closed since 2011. As columnist Polly Toynbee says, “cut youth services and violent crime will rise — is that really so hard to see?”

What is the best way to tackle knife crime?


Zero tolerance is needed, some argue. That means harsher sentences for those caught with knives, more police on the street, and increasing stop and search. Social programmes have their place, but we need to stop this violence now. Robust and uncompromising policing is the way forward.

There is a bigger picture, others respond. Unless the cause of violence is tackled, it will never end. That means giving money to deprived areas and investing in education. Fundamentally, it requires a shift in perspective: in seeing kids with knives not as criminals, but as victims of a society that is failing them.

You Decide

  1. In your opinion, what is the main reason that young people carry knives?
  2. Do prison sentences need to be harsher for violent criminals?


  1. Consider the four options for solving knife crime discussed above. In pairs or small groups, discuss which option you think would be most effective. Rank them in order, from most effective to least. Discuss your decision with the class. As a group, can you come to a consensus?
  2. Read the David Lammy opinion piece for the The Guardian by following the link in Become An Expert. Pick out the linguistic techniques he uses, and any particularly effective uses of vocabulary. Write one paragraph answering the following question: How does Lammy use language to make his argument convincing?

Some People Say...

“Nothing good ever comes of violence.”

Martin Luther King Jr

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There have been four fatal stabbings in London since last Friday. This takes the total number of homicides in London this year to 118, including 73 stabbings and 12 shootings. In total, there were 39,332 knife crimes committed in 2017/18, compared to 23,945 in 2013/14 — this is a 39% increase.
What do we not know?
What the biggest cause of the rising violence is. A leaked government report stated that police cuts “likely contributed” to rising violent crime in London. However, experts also point to factors including single parent families, school exclusions, cuts to youth services, an influx of drugs, social media and even violent music.

Word Watch

According to data collected by The Difference, a charity which focuses on social exclusion.
According to research by The Telegraph. See the link in Become An Expert for more.
1.4 million
According to government figures. For a more comprehensive account of stop and search, see the Full Fact link in Become An Expert.
Police have been accused of disproportionately targeting black people. Statistics show that black people are around eight times as likely to be stopped as white people. Four in every 1,000 white people were stopped and searched in 2016/17, compared to 29 in every 1,000 black people.
The city used to have one of the highest murder rates in western Europe. Since a raft of new social policies were introduced, the number of killings has plummeted. See Become An Expert for more.
The Home Office recently spent £1.35 million on the #knifefree campaign, designed to target young people on social media and digital TV channels.
According to a report by Sian Berry, member of the Green Party and the London Assembly.


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