POLITICS
21/08/2018 18:48 BST | Updated 22/08/2018 12:16 BST

Chuka Umunna Calls For Youth Knife Violence To Be Treated 'Like A Disease'

The Labour MP says ministers have failed to learn lessons from 2011 London riots.

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Power-holders should make it a “national mission” to stop youth bloodshed by treating gun and knife violence like a disease and not just a crime, a Labour MP has said.

Criminalising young people alone is failing, according to Chuka Umunna, who has called for social media companies to clamp down on drill music – a strand of hip-hop that has been heavily linked to gang violence.

In a speech also likely to heighten speculation of the formation of a new breakaway centrist party, Umunna also hit out at “the populism of left and right” which meant leaders had failed to grasp the complexity of the problem. 

The former shadow minister was speaking in Brixton where, 11 years ago, he gave a speech lamenting the 17 London teenagers shot or stabbed to death in 2007. 

“It was grim,” he said. “But here we are today, 11 years later, and already this year 21 teenagers have been stabbed in London alone.

“A lot has changed over 15 years, but it shames our society that the bloodshed continues.

“We now need to take a fresh look at this problem because we have failed to stop this tragedy.”

Umunna called for Westminster to emulate the public health approach taken towards knife crime in in Glasgow which, he said, has worked “very successfully” in stopping stabbings. 

But he warned: “You cannot deliver that model without whole system, cultural and organisational, change with sustained political backing.” 

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The Streatham MP described drill music as “bleak and nihilistic” and said it can “trigger and incite further violence”, but many young people see it as a route to making money. 

He did not call for an outright ban, but added: “We should require social media companies to adopt a zero-tolerance approach where their content incites violence.” 

On drill music producers, he went on: “There needs to be a dialogue with these groups on how they can set a better example – carrot and stick. 

“Above all, I would like to see us provide other pathways and opportunities for young people to use their creative talents and to pursue positive enterprise.” 

Umunna said it was also a “damning indictment” that politicians had apparently failed to learn the lessons of the 2011 riots. 

He added: “Most of the solutions to end serious youth violence can be found in the Riots Communities and Victims Panel report into the August 2011 riots. That was a different series of events, involving a wider demographic of people and yet so many of the causes and the solutions identified there were the same.” 

Too many young men feel “disrespected and disenfranchised” by a society that has turned its back on them, he added, and called for more effort to be made to connect those at risk with the wider world.

This means developing relationships where “dignity depends on an inherent sense of self-worth, not status symbols and the opinion of others” through community-led projects, the MP said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Knife crime has devastating consequences on our communities, and our Serious Violence Strategy signals a step change in balancing a law enforcement response with a multi-agency approach.”

She added: “Last month the Home Secretary announced doubling the Early Intervention Fund to £22 million to help youth groups and communities provide young people with positive choices and steer them away from crime.”