Did the Politics Show on gun crime in London today. It is the big story at the moment, courtesy of a spate of killings and the shocking ages involved – but gang culture and guns have been running for years.
So – yes it’s right to look at lowering the age at which the mandatory sentence for being in possession of an illegal gun can be prosecuted from the current 21 to 17 or 18. But don’t just put them in prison – where youngsters can simply learn in crime’s best university how to be on the wrong side of everything for the rest of their lives. Use that period also to invest in trying to give them real rehabilitation and pathways to a better life.
The one bit of the proposals from Blair that I thought was spot on was the need to introduce protection for witnesses that come forward to give evidence against members of a gang. But neither legislation nor police powers will change the real malaise. These gang members need such a range of support – from somewhere to go, alternative adults to care about them if their parents or parent don’t, life chances and real commitment for long periods from others. There was a guy on the Politics Show from Boyhood to Manhood, who work in South London. We need to ensure that more of that work is going on to support and sustain the individuals and the communities. It’s no good just appointing blame. This has to be about bringing support to lone parents and creating means for fathers to be with their children even if the partnership is long gone – or indeed never was. And this gang and gun culture (and I had a bit of bother saying that on TV – it came out gung!) is specific to this particular criminal culture. It is not endemic across all communities. But we all have to help resolve and resource this long term – not just now the spotlight is on it. One idea I would like to see tried more widely here is an American one – where they started something called something like ‘dads and doughnuts’. These are evenings organised by schools to bring in fathers with their children – not the mothers. Particularly useful where the parents has split up and aren’t getting on as this way – rather than only the mother attending parents’ evenings and the like – the fathers are more involved and engaged with the school and the progress of their child there.
Combined with the UNICEF report that puts our children at the bottom of the rich nation heap – it has been an eye-opening week. We are doing badly. I don’t think you can conflate the two – the gun and drug criminal culture is way beyond the norm. However, we do have a ‘behaviour crisis’ in terms of the more general findings of the UNICEF report – and I hope it is a wake-up call.
I have some sympathy with the Government in as much as so much of the damage was done under the Tories – and the Labour Government has at least made tackling child poverty one of its priorities. The child tax credits, for example, were not a bad idea – just badly executed.
However, it is clear from the report that we, all of us adults, had better have a look at ourselves and our behaviour – because we are letting our children down.