Sadiq Khan – 2019 Speech on the Causes of Crime

Below is the text of the speech made by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, on 15 July 2019.

Thank you Debbie.

And thank you Javaun.

Not only for that introduction, but for the inspiring work you do at City Hall.

Let’s show Javaun our appreciation.

Thank you all for coming.

And thank you to the Salmon Centre – who do brilliant work with young people – for hosting us today.

Before I start, I’d also like to take this opportunity to mention several organisations and colleagues here today who are playing a vital role in our efforts to tackle violent crime.

The NHS – from NHS England to UNISON’s London Ambulance service branch.

Those from the sports world, such as:

Football Beyond Borders. Fight for Peace. And Crystal Palace football club.

Local government colleagues – from Councillors to youth workers.

The voluntary sector, such as the Child Poverty Action Group and Barnardos.

Faith leaders, representing London’s Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples.

Those working directly with young people, such as Ignite Trust, Dwaynamics, New Horizon Youth Centre, and those working in schools.

And, of course, the police.

I’d also like to mention the bereaved families who are present here this morning, as well as those campaigning on their behalf.

I know it can be difficult to attend events like this.

It can bring back distressing memories.

But I want everyone to be a part of this conversation about how we tackle violent crime, and I’m grateful for you coming today.

As Mayor, the safety and security of London is my top priority.

Not a day passes without worrying about violent crime and its impact on Londoners.

And it’s been an extremely difficult time for our city:

Families and communities torn apart by senseless violence.

People feeling fearful for themselves and their loved ones.

And parents left grieving at the needless murder of their children.

You can’t help but share the heartbreak of the grief-stricken families you meet.

Or the worries of the fearful communities you visit.

But these emotions must drive us to do all we can to prevent more tragedy.

And lead us to be honest about the true causes of violent crime.

For how can we expect to tackle this scourge if we’re not willing to be honest about the nature of the task at hand?

The rise in violent crime across the country is a complex issue.

One that’s been obscured by short-term thinking and political spin for far too long.

This has prevented us from tackling the root causes head on.

Well – it’s time to be honest.

Honest about the scale of the problem.

Honest about what’s actually happening away from the headlines.

Honest about the role of families and communities.

Honest about what the police can do – and what they can’t.

Honest about what we can do from City Hall – and what we can’t.

Honest about what the Government can – and should – be doing.

And – ultimately – honest about what it will take – from all of us – to fix this problem for good.

And this is what I want to talk about today.

I love my job.

I’m privileged to spend my day making our city a better, fairer and more inclusive place for all.

But it’s also a job where you live and breathe the major challenges of a complicated, global city.

I often lay awake at night with an overwhelming sense of apprehension:

How many Londoners will be victims of violence in the coming days?

How many women will have to suffer sexual assault or domestic violence?

How many families will be left grieving due to bloodshed on our streets?

And what more can we do to bring this suffering to an end?

I believe it’s one of the responsibilities of my office to meet – if they want to – the relatives of those who’ve lost loved ones to violent crime.

I don’t speak about this much.

Because it’s personal.

It’s private.

But I think more of the stories of victims need to be heard if we’re going to be honest about this problem.

And if we’re going to understand the true human cost of violent crime.

So – today – I have the blessing of some brave parents to talk about the children they lost.

Malcolm Mide-Madariola was only 17 when he was knifed in the heart outside a tube station last year.

Malcolm was a high achieving student.

He passed his diploma in Business Studies with distinction.

And he enjoyed playing football for his school.

Malcom was also known for his generosity and kindness.

For putting his family and friends before himself.

And not for causing conflict, but for being a calming influence amongst his peers.

That fateful afternoon – when Malcolm was brutally killed – he was standing up for a friend who was being threatened.

Dwayne Simpson – another young Londoner – was also stabbed to death.

He lost his life in 2014.

He was trying to defend a young boy who was being chased down the street.

Dwayne didn’t have an easy start to life.

And he received a criminal record for robbery at a young age.

But when he came out of prison he turned his life around.

He went to college, had a bright future, and secured funding to set up a local boxing club – now called Dwaynamics – to keep others away from criminal gangs.

Due to the level of violence in his neighbourhood, Dwayne once told his mum that he didn’t know if he’d reach his 21st birthday.

Tragically, he never did.

There are so many more stories I could tell you.

I don’t want any more parents, like Malcom’s, Dwayne’s or others, to have to go through the grief of losing a child in this way.

Young victims struck down in the prime of their lives.

So much talent wasted.

And so much potential lost.

It’s painful stories like these that explain why I never allow myself to forget the time I spend with grieving relatives.

Because it motivates me every single day to ensure that other families don’t have to go through this kind of pain and anguish.

I mentioned earlier that if we’re truly going to tackle this problem – which we must – we have to start with honesty.

And honesty starts with looking at the facts.

Violent crime in our city is clearly far, far too high.

But how did we get here?

Contrary to what some would have you believe; violent crime didn’t start rising in London the day I became Mayor in 2016.

In truth, it’s been rising since 2014.

With Serious Youth Violence rising from 2012.

And the root causes go back even further than that.

We should also be clear that this is not just a London problem.

In fact, it’s been increasing at a higher rate in cities and regions across the country…

…which is why violent crime has been on the front pages of local papers in the likes of Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, as well as London.

We should also be honest about the fact that our relentless focus on this problem in London since 2016 has started to make a difference.

As the Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has confirmed – the situation is slowly improving.

Serious incidents involving young Londoners is down by nearly 20 per cent compared to last year.

And the number of homicides in the first six months of 2019 is 24 per cent lower than the same period a year ago.

I don’t say any of this because I’m complacent.

Far from it.

Every single act of violence is one too many.

And we clearly have a long way to go.

Something which is intensely highlighted whenever we experience days of horrific, lethal violence on our streets.

But if we’re going to continue to learn the right lessons, it’s critical that we’re honest and open when our approach is starting to show results.

And to challenge the narrative that ‘nothing is being done’. Because it is.

We also need to be honest about who the victims and perpetrators are.

Here in London, one of the most diverse cities in the world, young black men make up 11 per cent of London’s youth population.

Young black Londoners are over represented – as both victims and offenders.

But it’s important to remember that the vast, vast majority of young Black Londoners make a positive contribution to our city – and 99 per cent are not involved in serious youth violence in any way.

In other cities, like Glasgow, where the demographics are very different, it’s young white men who are more likely to be the perpetrators, as well as the victims, of violent crime.

That’s because it’s not skin colour that determines your chances of being a victim or a perpetrator, but many other environmental factors – which I will come to later – such as disproportionate rates of poverty, unemployment and school exclusions.

But this issue of disproportiality is impacting the wider black community, including those not directly involved – such as innocent Londoners like Malcolm, Dwayne and their families.

This is something we must both acknowledge and seek to address.

Not only in relation to youth violence, but more broadly.

This means proactively tackling the barriers and inequality that black Londoners face.

From housing and poverty to education and the work place.

And – lastly – we must also be honest about the fact that youth violent crime is being fuelled by the drug trade.

This means that as well as doing more to arrest and charge the criminals who are distributing and selling drugs, we must make people aware that taking drugs at middle-class parties is contributing to the bloodshed on our streets.

Londoners must realise that there’s no such thing as a victimless crime.

So what’s the solution?

It seems like a cliché now, but I fundamentally believe that the mantra of the last Labour government still holds true:

“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”.

This means working to tackle the underlying causes at the same time as understanding that the police will always have a huge, and vital, role to play.

I want to put on the record – once again – my thanks to the brave men and women of the Met Police who are doing an incredible job under extremely difficult circumstances.

As Mayor, I’ll continue to support our overstretched and under-resourced police to do everything they can to stem the bloodshed.

And I’ll continue to defend the tactics they’re successfully using to drive down violence:

Knife sweeps to get weapons of the streets.

Intelligence-led drug raids and arrests.

Highly visible policing in the areas worst affected.

And targeted, intelligence-led Stop and Search.

I know as well as anyone the negative impact that indiscriminate Stop and Search can have on communities.

Done badly, it really can make it harder to tackle crime by pitting communities against the police and by discouraging key witnesses from reporting crime.

Growing up in south London, I lost track of the number of times I was stopped and searched for what appeared to be for no other reason than the colour of my skin.

And one of the things I remember being told as a teenager by my late dad was:

“Always be respectful to the police. Never answer back. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t give them an excuse.”

I know this experience has been shared by many black and Asian Londoners – regardless of their background or where they live.

When I was a human rights lawyer, I was active in highlighting the disproportionate use of Stop and Search and – let’s face it – some examples of downright discrimination.

But – since I’ve been Mayor – working with the police – we’ve been acting to end the very worst practices of Stop and Search.

As part of this, we’ve rolled out Body Worn Cameras so that both the police and communities can have more confidence in their interactions.

What we’ve found is that when it’s done professionally, properly and with evidence – Stop and Search can be effective in taking drugs and weapons off our streets, and therefore a vital tool we must use.

So, again, I want to be honest – Stop and Search has increased under my Mayoralty.

But that’s not to say it’s a panacea – in any way

Despite what the candidates for the next Prime Minister want you to believe, we will never be able to solve this problem with Stop and Search alone.

Another contentious issue is the number of police officers on our streets.

There are some who criticise me for talking about police cuts in response to violent crime.

They say that it’s somehow dodging responsibility or passing the buck.

But it’s the truth.

And as I’ve said today, we can’t tackle violent crime unless we’re honest about every aspect of it.

Over 800 million pounds has already been stripped from the Met’s budgets since 2010.

This is a total disgrace – and has created a huge amount of damage.

You don’t have to take my word for it:

The Home Office has acknowledged the link between police cuts and violent crime.

Senior officers around the country have bravely spoken out for years.

Even the Home Secretary has now said that police cuts have gone too far.

And both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have finally acknowledged the same.

It makes me so angry that for years the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and other Cabinet Ministers refused to admit what was clear for everyone else to see.

And even angrier that – despite some warm words – the Government is still refusing to reverse all the cuts made since 2010.

I’m doing all I can to fill some of the financial black hole:

Investing a record amount from City Hall.

Helping to set up a new dedicated Violent Crime Taskforce.

And ensuring we have nearly 300 police officers focused on the areas worst affected, working alongside their colleagues.

But – I have to be honest – I have one arm tied behind my back.

Because the overwhelming majority of police funding comes from the Government.

And I have no means of making up the gap.

That’s why we desperately need the Government to reverse all the cuts and to put more police officers on the streets.

And – on behalf of Londoners – I’ll continue to push the next Prime Minister to deliver on his promises to do just that.

But while the Conservative candidates are trying to sound tough on crime – despite their record of supporting massive cuts – the truth is they’re desperately weak on addressing the underlying causes.

The formula I mentioned earlier – “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” – requires both elements to happen.

Being honest about violent crime means admitting that we can’t just arrest our way out of the problem.

And it means admitting that there are certain environmental factors that can lead people to become more likely to commit crime.

No one is born violent.

Or born a criminal.

But the truth is there is a complex and interrelated set of factors at play in people’s lives, homes and communities, which can alter the likelihood of someone taking the wrong road.

These involve deep-rooted and engrained social and economic factors.

Factors like the rise of child poverty.

Like family breakdown and poor mental health.

Like the lack of youth services across London.

Like the negative impact of new forms of communication and social media.

Like the link between drugs, gangs and violence – often involving organised criminal networks that span the globe, with operations the size of large companies.

And like the fact that investment in public services and programmes designed to tackle these engrained problems have been decimated by a decade of austerity…

This has removed the glue that holds our communities together, which previously prevented many people from slipping out of the system and into a life of crime.

The depressing reality is that many young people coming of age now have only known austerity throughout their formative years.

Their parents had insecure work and insecure housing.

The help that used to exist for such parents – through programmes like Sure Start – has all but disappeared.

Many of them were excluded from school and left to fend for themselves without any support.

Their youth centres were closed down.

And they’ve seen their job opportunities narrowed, and their aspirations curtailed.

There is clearly a link between this perfect storm of cuts and regressive policies and the rise of violent crime since 2014, and serious youth violence since 2012.

And, today, I’m releasing stark new analysis from City Hall, which truly lays bare the full extent of the relationship between serious youth violence and a whole range of socio-economic factors.

It confirms that the areas of London with the highest rate of youth violence have:

Higher rates of poverty and deprivation.

A higher proportion of children in care.

And lower levels of ‘positive life satisfaction’ amongst young Londoners.

Yet there are still some who say that to acknowledge this link between poverty, deprivation and crime is somehow to excuse criminality and to let the criminals off the hook.

I say this is dangerous rubbish.

Not to do so is simply dishonest – and, unforgivably, allows violent crime to continue for another generation without addressing the underlying causes.

The truth is:

If we allow children to be brought up in deprived conditions.

If we accept high rates of school exclusions.

If we fail to tackle domestic and sexual violence.

If we leave people in bad housing with a lack of employment and training opportunities.

And if we decimate the very public services designed to support those most in need – as this Government has systematically done – then crime is much more likely to flourish.

This is not to say that everyone growing up in these environments becomes a criminal.

Or that we shouldn’t deal very toughly with those who break the law.

Far from it.

There is never any excuse for criminality – whatsoever.

But any sensible society understands that it’s in our own interest to remove the conditions that allow criminality to thrive.

We have to face the reality that:

with hope at rock bottom,

an absence of positive opportunities,

and a worrying lack of worth being placed on people’s lives…

…turning to criminality and gangs has become an all too easy route to satisfy the lure of gaining respect and money – however misguided that is.

Gangs and violence is often the only sense of identity and belonging many young people know.

And new and evolving forms of social media are being used to glorify violence and goad rivals.

Earlier, I spoke about the actions the Met police is taking on violent crime.

Well – we’re also doing some innovative work from City Hall to tackle the underlying causes.

We’ve established the Young Londoners Fund and a range of youth and community initiatives.

From the Culture Seeds programme to Sports Unite – which are providing new opportunities for young people.

This includes plans to:

Invest in projects during the summer holidays for thousands of young people at risk of becoming involved in crime.

And funding initiatives to identify young people being exploited by county-lines drug trafficking, and then helping them to turn their lives around.

We’ve also established the new Violence Reduction Unit.

The VRU is working to reduce all forms of violence – including violence against women and girls – using what’s described as a public health approach.

This is about using police enforcement first to contain and stop the spread of violent crime.

And then tackling the root causes to prevent it from happening in the first place.

This means intervening at critical moments in a young person’s life when they’re experiencing things that could increase the chance of them getting involved in violence.

These adverse childhood experiences – as they are known – can be very varied.

Take exposure to violence:

A young person who’s been a victim of violence is much more likely to go on to commit violent crimes themselves.

And according to the Met Police, 72 per cent of homicide suspects were previously victims of knife crime.

That’s why – with the right intervention and support – we can prevent young people from taking the wrong road.

To achieve this goal, we’re bringing together specialists from the NHS, the police, local government, probation and community organisations to understand the underlying causes of violent crime and to be ready to intervene when needed.

We’re also getting better at sharing information between agencies and co-ordinating interventions.

There’s no doubt we have a big task ahead.

But we’re not starting with a blank piece of paper.

We’re building on the public health approach set out in my Knife Crime Strategy two years ago.

And we’re constantly learning from the successful implementation of a public health approach in Glasgow and other cities around the world – and adapting them in London.

We’re also drawing on the excellent community practice already taking place in London – including by charities, councils and community groups here today.

That’s why the first priority of the new director of the VRU, Lib Peck – who I’m pleased is here this morning – has been to listen to the Londoners most affected by violent crime.

She’s looking at how we can use our resources to empower local communities to tackle the problem, rather than imposing a top-down approach.

Our aim is to:

Re-build trust between communities and agencies that can help.

Join forces in spotting the risk factors in young Londoners that might lead to criminal behaviour.

And then to focus our attention on what can actually make a difference before it’s too late.

And, today, after much consultation with communities, I’m pleased to announce several projects that the VRU will be funding as part of this work.

This includes:

Creating a programme to reduce school exclusions.

Providing support to young people affected by domestic violence.

Supporting programmes for vulnerable parents to help create stronger families.

Training youth workers.

And establishing a Youth Action Group that will inform the VRU programme and advise City Hall.

I know from my own life story the positive impact these kinds of programmes can have.

Because I’ve seen how many young Londoners from deprived and disadvantaged communities often face key crossroads in their lives.

And without the necessary support for them and their families at these crucial moments, they can take decisions and paths that not only harm their own future, but negatively impact the rest of society.

Growing up on a council estate in South London, I saw first-hand how this can happen.

I’ve witnessed these key moments in people’s lives.

Some of my school friends were given opportunities to develop and gain confidence through family and community programmes, sport and other activities – whether it was boxing in the local club in Earlsfield or playing football at the weekends.

Whereas others – with just as much potential – didn’t have the same positive influences in their lives, and were sucked into a life of crime and criminal gangs.

I’ll never forget a visit to a prison when I was Shadow Justice Secretary.

As I was walking around I heard one of the inmates shouting – “Sadiq” from behind a caged barrier.

I looked over, and it was an old school friend.

I remember that he was intelligent with potential to succeed, but, for a whole host of reasons, he’d taken some wrong turns in life and ended up in prison.

There are no excuses for the crimes he committed.

But I’m in no doubt that with the right support structure and opportunities growing up – his story – like so many others across London – could have been very, very different.

So our approach amounts to a fundamentally different way of doing things to tackle violent crime in London.

With more funding from City Hall than ever before.

Greater collaboration with other public services and communities.

And a more focused and evidence-based approach to addressing the underlying causes.

But to be honest – we simply cannot do it on our own.

So my message to the Government – and the new Prime Minister – is this:

It’s time to acknowledge that this is a national problem that requires an urgent national solution.

No more scratching around the edges.

We need the Prime Minister to drive the implementation of a proper national strategy to:

Tackle poverty and inequality.

To support the most deprived communities in our country, and those who have been left behind.

To invest in youth services and opportunities for young people.

And to support our police with the long-term increase in funding they desperately need.

So, let me end by saying this:

The sad reality is the violence we’re seeing on our streets today is an appalling side-effect of increasing inequality and alienation caused by years of austerity and neglect.

The lesson we must all learn is that you can’t cut public services, preventative measures and ignore the most vulnerable people in our country at the same time as keeping crime low.

These things are fundamentally incompatible.

What we’re seeing is a reflection of what happens following a nine-year experiment to shrink the state.

The most depressing part of all of this is that our city – our nation – is being robbed of young people with so much potential.

And – if we don’t change our approach as a country – we risk another generation taking similar paths to violence.

The first step for the Government must be to stop viewing this problem in isolation, and to start being honest about the challenge we face.

The next Prime Minister can’t continue to turn a blind eye to despair and the human cost of austerity.

Of course, the police must be tough on crime.

But we can’t expect them to bring down poverty and inequality too.

This is not their job.

It’s clear we need a strategy which is both tough on violence and tough on its causes.

This is what we’re doing in London.

But we need the Government to follow suit – we need their help.

We’ve taken this approach as a country before – with success – and it’s possible to do so again.

This means investing in young people.

Investing in families.

Investing in communities.

And investing in our country so that we can expand opportunity for all.

Thank you.