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Debating government policy on gangs

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11 October 2011
Debating government policy on gangs Earlier today I spoke in the Westminster Hall debate on the government’s policy on gangs. The government’s strategy on this issue has obviously become more of a priority after the media coverage of the riot and the debate that has followed, but has unfortunately been a major issue in many of our cities for some time.

The wider debate focused on the benefits of early intervention in preventing gang violence. Many members agreed that in order to identify those susceptible to gang recruitment, and implement programmes to protect those individuals at risk, we must have a coordinated response both within and across local authorities and at a government level.

I spoke about my experiences in living in Lewisham for over ten years, which I have found a happy and safe place to live. But I know that my experiences are sometimes not shared by younger people in Lewisham, and indeed parents who are concerned about gang activity in their area. In light of the riots, there is now an opportunity to shape a real coordinated effort on gangs to ensure that the violence we saw in August is not a permanent feature of our cities. Many of the speakers in the debate were London MPs, who know all too well of the effects of gangs on our streets. I spoke about how unfortunate it is that it is only now, in the post-riot debate, that gangs are on the government’s agenda, and that the government have unfortunately been slow off the mark in addressing the dangers of gang violence.

Earlier this week I met with the charity XLP which works in 60 schools and communities across London, including many in Lewisham, to fight poverty and support education. They have worked with both gangs and victims of gangs and you can learn more about their work on their website. From the experiences of XLP and from what I have seen in Lewisham, I outlined what I believe would be the best interventions in dealing with and preventing gangs; jobs and opportunities for young people, youth-led community projects, role models and mentoring and funding projects such as XLP which have a proven track record on working with gangs. I think it is vital that the government doesn’t just talk tough on gangs, but tackles these issues with a properly thought out strategy on early intervention, getting people out of gangs, dealing with those in prison and issues around reprisal attacks.

I also pressed the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice on a response on my campaign to tackle material that appears on websites, such as YouTube, glorifying gang membership and the carrying of knives. I find it unbelievable that I first raised these issues over a year ago and have not even had as much as an acknowledgement from the Government. I didn’t get one in the debate today either – I was simply told by the Minister afterwards that it wasn’t his responsibility.

I ended my speech by calling for the funding of community-led projects on tackling gang and knife crime. It’s an outrage that the Government are willing to spend £50m on electing Police and Crime Commissioners when this money would be better spent on tackling serious youth violence – £50M is nearly three times the amount that the Government announced for dealing with gang, gun and knife crime over the next two years, as stated by the Home Office on their website.

You can read my speech in full here

You can view my speech on the video below (I speak around 42 minutes in, at 10:11:45)

Update 13/10/11: This morning I asked the Leader of the House of Commons for debate time on the government’s strategy on gangs (see below). I didn’t get a firm reponse on this but will continue to press for this vital debate, and ensure that the government’s new found interest in a a strategy on gang violence remains a Parliamentary priority.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East): Following the riots in the summer, the Prime Minister announced a cross-departmental review of gangs and serious youth violence. A strategy is due to be published this month. Can the House have a debate on this vital issue in Government time?

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