Following yet another spate of tragic killings of young people in recent weeks, knife crime has again become a major issue nationally, important enough to (briefly) even push Brexit off the front pages. The government is now coming under considerable pressure as people demand action.
There was a huge reaction from local people in Romford, East London, after a young 17-year old girl was stabbed to death in a park. Purple ribbons (reflecting the girl’s favourite colour) appeared everywhere across the borough, and there was a silent march through the town centre against knife crime.
The facts are chilling. There has been a 11% rise in such crimes in London (and an average increase of 45.7% in 34 counties of England and Wales) since 2010.
The response of some has been a call for more police, in order to “regain control” of the streets. The call for a greater police presence has even been echoed by leading figures in the labour movement such as Owen Jones. But it was also an important campaigning issue for Corbyn and Labour during the 2017 general election.
On the surface, more crime would suggest too few police. But in reality, this is a very shallow analysis of what is going on in society. Demands for more police completely miss the point of why this crime is taking place at all.
The surge in knife crime isn’t the result of reduced police numbers or people being ‘soft’. In truth, new punitive measures would have little effect. Gang members are now more afraid not to be carrying a knife than to be caught with one by the authorities.
The vast majority of knife crime derives from the conditions of total desperation and alienation that capitalism has created, not least in our inner-cities. It is certainly not a surprise that the statistics show a surge since 2010 with the onset of brutal Tory austerity.
The cuts have hit young people the hardest, with the closure of Sure Start centres and youth clubs, the tripling of tuition fees, and a reduction in per pupil spending in state education of 8%. Attacks on the young have been fierce, pushing thousands into abject poverty. Even the UN Special Rapporteur claimed that cuts “are entrenching high levels of poverty”.
In addition, the exclusion of ‘troublesome’ kids from ‘exam-factory’ schools (in the main to boost exam result statistics) has created a ready-made recruitment market for gangs.
These gangs, in turn, are being motivated towards even more violent behaviour as they compete for the huge profits to be made in the brutal drugs market. As more gangs have entered the scene, prices have dropped and there has therefore been a growing need to seek out and maintain new markets through ever-more desperate measures.
In concrete terms, this means that different gangs are increasingly encroaching on each others ‘turf’, with some gangs branching out and spreading their reach into previously tranquil towns.
On BBC Question Time last week, a teacher in the audience directly attacked the role the cuts have played in ruining young people's’ lives: “We’re telling them not to go to the parks. Where can they go? Everything has been withdrawn.”
The Tories weep for the dead, but are completely silent as young people are pushed deeper into poverty through rent hikes and wage cuts, the root cause of this surge in knife crime.
No future under capitalism
What is even more crucial in understanding the rise in knife crime is the grim future that this whole system now puts before us. Our generation is the first generation since the Industrial Revolution to have a lower standard of living than that of our parents. We are expecting to have to work well into our old age for lower wages whilst being denied job security as temporary and zero hours contracts proliferate.
Added to all this, a third of us are expected to go throughout our entire lives having never owned a home, seeing a huge portion of our income siphoned off by parasitic landlords.
This is the future capitalism is offering young people. It is no wonder then that so many young people are turning to crime out of desperation.
This crisis is being reflected in a sharp rise in social decay and severe problems amongst young people, including even young children. As such, things seem set to get worse not better.
Calling for more police will solve nothing. In fact, it could create further social upheavals, such as those which led to the inner-city riots of the 1980s, or the riots seen in working class areas of London in the summer of 2011.
Instead, Labour should be grappling with the heart of the issue, setting out a bold socialist programme that offers our generation a future. Labour has gone some way in doing this, with its calls for more social housing, a National Education Service, and a scrapping of tuition fees.
Yet these general problems in society cannot be solved simply by this or that reform. What is required is radical change across the board to prevent the generational decline in living standards we’re set to face.
Until young people are offered hope of a real future - away from gangs, slum housing, unemployment and debt - nothing will change. Labour should therefore commit to a socialist programme which takes the wealth out of the hands of the parasites in the banks and the big monopolies. Only then can we put an end to austerity and stop the tearing apart of the fabric of society.