Throughout the month of February, we’re telling the story of the 21 teenagers who were murdered in 2023. Our campaign, The 21, seeks to remember every victim as a young person with a family and their whole life ahead of them. We want to change the culture of kids carrying knives and becoming involved in violence.

London MPs are split on party lines over the reason's behind the capital's problem with youth violence. 

Labour MPs have looked to blame cuts made by the Conservative government, while a Tory MP has highlighted some new initiatives aimed at protecting young people. 

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in east London, said there is “still much more to do” and the causes of such crimes require investment in prevention.

She highlighted a need for more youth provision, better education and greater opportunities for young people.

Hackney Gazette: MP Rushanara AliMP Rushanara Ali (Image: Parliament)Blaming the Conservative government's austerity policies, she said: “To protect our communities, we must increase policing and youth services that have faced round after round of cuts under the Tories.

“The Tories have cut police funding in London by £1billion over the past decade and overseen the closure of 130 youth services.” 

Julia Lopez, a Tory MP for Hornchurch & Upminster, said the responsibility for these “pointless, evil acts”, like the murder of 16-year-old Harry Pitman in Primrose Hill in London, always rests with the person carrying the knife.

Hackney Gazette: Hornchurch & Upminster MP Julia LopezHornchurch & Upminster MP Julia Lopez (Image: Richard Townshend Photography)

She highlighted the joint community effort between police, schools, residents and office holders that has been made over many years to protect young people, and is now underpinned by the new Serious Violence Duty.

On Violence Reduction Units, she claimed that Tory government’s focus on early intervention and prevention work is having a real impact.

“We have toughened laws to give police more powers to seize knives, to search those already convicted of knife or weapons offences and to increase the sentences of those convicted," she added.

“We have limited access to knives, banning zombie knives and machetes, increasing penalties for those who import, make or advertise them online, and - importantly - added hundreds more Met Police officers to enforce these laws."

Labour MP for Lewisham and Deptford, Vicky Foxcroft, said that while the causes of such crimes can be complex, young people who have been subjected to or witnessed domestic violence are at an increased risk.

Children whose parents or guardians struggle to provide the care they need due to addiction and working irregular hours could also similarly be more susceptible to getting involved in crime, she said.

Hackney Gazette: MP Vicky FoxcroftMP Vicky Foxcroft (Image: Parliament)Other key risk factors she listed were exclusion from mainstream education, a drastic reduction in youth services, poor employment prospects for young people, poor quality and inadequate housing and increased rates of child poverty and inequality.

She added: “All of these factors have been exacerbated by cuts to police officer numbers and a sharp decline in neighbourhood policing, leading to the erosion of trust between communities and the police."

She shared that her work on the Youth Violence Commission taught her the importance of taking a public health approach to help tackle the issue.

The government and local authorities, she said, must listen to and involve young people at all stages. Referring to a report from the commission, she added that it detailed several recommendations like long-term funding of regional violence reduction units.

Reinvestment in local neighbourhood policing, increasing funding to enable schools to support pupils and providing more support services for parents were some of the other suggestions in the report, she said.

Echoing these views, MP for Dagenham and Rainham Jon Cruddas said violent crime does not have one catalyst and maintained that “we can’t always arrest our way out of the situation”.

Hackney Gazette: MP Jon CruddasMP Jon Cruddas (Image: Parliament)He added: “Whilst I think we need more visible policing in our communities as a preventative measure, I also think it will take a multi-agency approach to resolve the underlying issues which lead our young people into lives of crime."

Highlighting cuts in youth services in the past 13 years, he added that many people have been left with nowhere to turn to and this “desperately needs to be addressed”.

“The reality in terms of police response is that they just don’t have the resources they once did, and the judicial system needs urgent reform to play a more active role in discouraging violent crimes on our streets," he added.

Ilford South MP Sam Tarry, who is also a member of the Child Criminal Exploitation and Knife Crime All-Party Parliamentary Group, said there needed to be a “joined-up approach” to tackle knife crime that doesn’t just focus on punishing offenders but addresses the underlying causes behind it.

Hackney Gazette: MP Samuel TarryMP Samuel Tarry (Image: Parliament)These, he said, are “the systemic poverty of hope” felt by many children and young people across the country, who “see little or no chance of a positive future”.

Early intervention with at-risk youth through programmes, greater access to after-school clubs, sports facilities, community centres and youth support mentors were some of the preventative provisions he listed.

He said services supporting teenagers have “become badly fragmented and neglected” with local partnerships stretched.

He added: “Ever-toughening sentences and crackdowns on young people do nothing to tackle the fundamental problem at the heart of the issue. We need a far greater focus on preventative measures."