Founder of Lives Not Knives charity links latest wave of murders to the impact of austerity and the closure of 100 youth centres in Croydon.
By SANJANA IDNANI
The founder of a Croydon-based knife crime prevention charity has joined other community workers in linking the impact of a decade of austerity, which has brought wide-ranging cuts to youth services, to the latest wave of deadly violence on the streets of the capital.
According to figures from the Metropolitan Police, there have been 22 killings of teenagers in London so far in 2021.
The most recent two murders were both in Croydon this month. Camron Smith, 16, was fatally knifed outside his home on the Shrublands Estate. Nine days later another 16-year-old, Demarie Omare Roye, died after being stabbed on Bensham Manor Road.
There was a further serious stabbing in Croydon town centre on Sunday, when a 17-year-old girl had to be flown to hospital by air ambulance after she was stabbed in the arm at McDonald’s on North End.
And according to Eliza Ribeiro, the founder of Croydon charity Lives Not Knives, the spate of stabbings is the result of the underlying lack of hope that the borough’s disadvantaged youths encounter on a daily basis.
“When we ask young people aged 14 to 18 why they carry knives, they’re nonchalant about it,” Ribeiro said.
“Some don’t believe their life matters, so everything becomes in the moment.”
Ribeiro and other youth workers point to the axing of services over the past decade. Funding for youth services has fallen by 70 per cent since 2011, and more than 100 youth centres have closed in Croydon alone.
With Croydon Council in financial meltdown, in November 2020, among the services facing further cuts in the borough were family group conference support, children’s centres and education support services.
This week, a spokesperson for Juvenis, a youth charity, told the Evening Standard, “The impact of austerity and cuts is that places where young people feel safe, such as youth clubs and boxing gyms, are no longer there.”
Other community workers told the Standard that covid created a “perfect storm” for youth violence, as the pandemic has exacerbated inequality for disadvantaged youths. Crime figures also suggest an increase in county lines crimes, in which teenagers are often coerced into helping drugs gangs or face the threat of violence.
Because of the pandemic, vulnerable youths have also faced delays when trying to access mental health services.
Mahamed Hashi, a youth worker and councillor in Lambeth, said that many youngsters resort to carrying weapons as a form of protection. “Many who’ve been victims or witnessed violence feel deep fear when they go out, so unless we give them another way to feel ‘safe’, they are going to carry,” Hashi said.
Another factor is the increased use of stop and search, which has eroded trust between black youths and the police.
In Croydon, according to the most recently available data, between July 2020 and June 2021, of 1,000 people subject to stop and search by the Met, 61.4 were black. The proportion of white people who were stopped and searched was 25.2 in every 1,000.
The effect of pupils being excluded from schools has a similar effect in the erosion of trust in authorities. “Many excluded children have special educational needs or mental health issues that are not diagnosed or are supported too late, because once the child is excluded the damage is done,” Ribeiro said.
“The government is not getting it. We need them to help schools create inclusion units so that struggling children can be supported, rather than sent away to be somebody else’s problem
“It should also be mandatory for schools to educate children and teachers about youth violence, just like with sex education, because that will mean better safeguarding.”
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