Experts and charities have sounded the alarm on rising youth violence and say it could erupt over the summer, made worse by Covid lockdowns, mental health issues and months without education.
Overworked youth services lack the funding and resources to tackle the problem and are preparing for an outbreak of violence similar to that seen, Kayleigh Wainwright, director of collective action at the national charity UK Youth, said. when the lockdown was lifted last year.
“In recent weeks, youth workers have told me that the lockdown, especially for young people already involved in gangs, has given them the opportunity to strategize and reflect. Now that the lockdown has been lifted, we see this violence and this conflict unfolding, ”she said. “And we saw a real increase in the number of young people being exploited because of Covid, because they were vulnerable and isolated. “
Metropolitan Police said London was on track for its worst year of teenage murders since 2008. More than 20 young people have been killed in the capital since the start of the year, and two boys aged 15 and 16 years were killed in separate stab wounds in south London on the same day, July 5.
Violence among young people has also increased in other parts of the country. At least 11 teenagers were fatally shot or stabbed in the West Midlands in the first six months of the year, including 14-year-old Dea-John Reid, who was killed on May 31 on the spring holiday.
Power the Fight Youth Violence Charity CEO Ben Lindsay said: “It doesn’t surprise me that we now have a generation that coming out of Covid is really lost and confused, that had to manage extreme isolation and now they have had the opportunity to be free again.
“I think it’s a dangerous combination. I think it’s going to be bubbling this summer, and in fact it’s already bubbling. “
Craig Pinkney, a criminologist and expert on urban youth, said predictions made of youth violence at the start of the pandemic were starting to materialize and new traits were emerging.
“Violence will erupt this summer. It’s like an explosion. Covid has really had an impact on people’s mental health and their social interaction. It’s almost like a crucible. Young people don’t know what to do with their behavior, ”he said. He also stressed that violence among young people must be treated as a public health problem in order to deal with it effectively.
Frontline services say there are no easy answers and warn against simplifying the problem. Tanayah Sam, the founder of TSA Projects in Birmingham, a non-profit that engages young people through sport and the media, said he was fed up with political phrases and people were too quick to blame individual issues such as youth shutdown. clubs or Covid.
“There are too many different factors that got us to where we are now,” he said. “Knife crime in the last two years up to Covid was the highest on record. So yes, the Covid definitely plays a role, but it was already on the increase. This is what we have to accept and it will get worse.
In her experience, a complex mix of factors such as mental health issues, exclusion from school, negative peer groups and domestic violence pushes young people towards violence, also fueled by the glorification of gang culture. through musical and sports brands.
“So many people deny the violence and deny the problems, they turn a blind eye and then things can escalate and become more problematic. That’s what’s happening now, ”said Sam, who has written a book about his own experience with gangs. “Every child has a need and it’s about meeting their needs. When you meet their needs, their world changes. But each case is different.
A teenager said TSA Projects had become a lifeline and helped him escape the stress of the streets.
“As a young black boy, if I’m not in a safe space, if I’m not in a building with people I can trust, something could happen,” he said. “If you’re just walking around town, you might walk around with a hood and someone thinks you are a gang member, and it’s either your life over or your life in danger.” “
He said parts of Birmingham had been overrun by rival gangs, with as many as 12 in one part of the city, and he knew children as young as 10 struggling to avoid getting involved.
“I have the impression that most of the problems come from people who no longer feel safe in their own environment. And I feel like the violence has been glamorized to the point where most people do it for the weight, or for the fame and status, ”he said.
“Covid made the situation worse because during the lockdown there were more children out of school. And in the summer, when everyone was partying, I saw more young people die in the space of a few months than I have ever seen before.