Bishop of Southwark responds to Queen’s Speech – serious youth violence

On 9th January 2020 the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, spoke during the fourth day of debate in the House on the Queen’s Speech, about serious youth violence:

Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I wish to raise the issue of local services that are likely to have a positive impact on serious youth violence, in particular knife crime. I appreciate that the criminal justice system was key to yesterday’s debate on the gracious Speech, and indeed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester touched briefly on knife crime in that context. However, I wish to concentrate not on policing per se, nor on the actions of the courts, prison or probation services, but on those of other local agencies.

Clergy from all churches, and ministers of other religions too, are locally based in the communities affected, as are lay ministers, church youth workers and volunteers. Clergy take the funerals, comfort the bereaved, go into schools and seek to provide safe spaces for people to explore a richer and fuller meaning for their life and an identity that recognises the divine image in the other.

The year 2019 was terrible for knife crime in the capital. I was involved in the funerals of two of the victims. The extinguishing of a life, the grief of those who remain, the criminality of the perpetrators and the pervasive and corrosive insecurity these events create for our young people are all too evident.

It is not possible to demonstrate that cuts in funding inevitably lead to violence, but adequate provision for youth services that stress the value of teamwork, structure, mutual respect as a matter of course, value beyond self and the normality of loss and gain bears fruit that will last. They are the immersion in a positive way of life.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester that the proposal for the serious violence Bill to mandate multiagency working is very welcome. But as a range of national charities pointed out in February 2019, between 2010-11 and 2017-18 local authority spending on children and young people’s services fell by 16%, from £10.3 billion to £8.6 billion. In comparison, the funding provided to them fell by 29% in the same period. Within that, there has been a shift from early intervention through children’s centres and family support to late intervention in safeguarding and children in care. There is some way more to go beyond the Government’s election promise of an additional £500 million if the desired impact is to be made.

For those deeply involved in our local communities, the efforts of the Mayor of London through his violence reduction unit, Young Londoners Fund, educational toolkits for schools and the London Needs You Alive online campaign all need our support. The Stepping Stones programme supporting at-risk young people in transition from primary to secondary school is the sort of initiative additional funding should support.

For our part, in the diocese of Southwark we are working with the group Oxygen on providing a 10-week anti-crime programme in schools. We are working with Power the Fight to train clergy and youth workers to provide spaces for young people in churches. The Southwark diocesan board for education is piloting training across 10 Church of England schools on adverse childhood experiences and contextual safeguarding, in a programme developed by the Children’s Society and EduCare to raise teachers’ awareness of safeguarding and adverse experiences of young people, to improve their life chances. The diocese of Southwark supports the Ascension Trust’s Synergy Network, and its pioneering CEO, Les Isaac, who founded Street Pastors and will next month launch a dedicated website as a network of resources for those doing youth work across the capital.

I trust that members of the Government will be sensitive to the funding of local government youth services and those who seek to enable our young people to flourish.


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