With sharp rises in knife crime and other gang related violence – both within alleged gangs and towards the general civilian population – recently, youth crime has been a poignant issue for many in London and the UK as a whole. While all youth crime statistics have seen a rise (there was controversy earlier this year in relation to a manipulation of government figures released that suggested there was a decline in youth crime, later exposed as not taking into account penalty notices for disorder relating to minor offences and anti-social behaviour, which were decidedly significant) the biggest rises have been seen in relation to crimes relating to violence.
In recent years the murder rate in the country has been said to have tripled, while the government has continued to scramble for ideas on policy to reduce youth crime and its related problems, often coining the phrase “broken Britain” when referring to the country’s problems, and blaming their peers and opposition for the alarming figures and failures.
Almost irrespective of the type of crime they are involved in, it is hard to understand just what can bring the country’s youth to be where they are today. Youths and children are joining gangs at increasingly alarming rates, and the average age is continuing to drop; gun crimes are more frequently being committed by under 18’s, and more and more youths are using and selling drugs at much higher rates than the rest of Europe. Many of those ending up committing and promoting crime suffer a lack of education. Be it at home, amongst friends, at school or university, the values we place on society and ourselves, as well as our role within these structures has a lot to do with how and what we are taught, and the methods through which we learn them.
While London may be one of the hardest cities in the world to break free from the socio-economic demographic you were born into (i.e. children born in to poor families are most likely to be poor when they are older, and vice-versa for the rich) the education system – within normal society and also in the UK prisons – seems to be failing Britain’s young. Most recently, figures reported that literacy and numeracy levels in prisons here were at their lowest ever – a culmination of a steady many years of decline. And the story is the same on the outside.
Unfortunately, for many of the UK’s young, their struggle within an education system that is falling short of its essential targets, offers them little hope for a successful future, in an increasingly demanding society. What’s more is the fact that most of the schools in poorer areas are acknowledged by the government as failing, and many of the children enrolled in these schools will be incomparably disadvantaged by what the government statistics show as extremely poor results – and at GCSE level only. Without any prospects, and a grim picture of adult life, youths and teenagers in Britain are surely losing hope, and quickly going off the rails, encouraged and recruited by gang members preying on their disillusionment.
Speaking at a conference for the Australian Association for Research in Education, at the University of Adelaide, Toni G. Cross and George F. Lewis – both of Sydney’s Macquarie University Institute of early childhood – commented that “children born into socioeconomically disadvantaged families often have poor educational outcomes, exhibit more externalising behaviours and more depressive symptoms”.
How many of these children are growing up to struggle with unplanned pregnancies and unexpected children, is also a warning that the government is falling down when it comes to sex education and reforms that dangerously encourage low-income couples into having children. A lack of education on Sex and Health, as well as family planning – imperative in limiting unplanned pregnancies – in underfunded schools exacerbate the situation further still – the Guardian reported late last year that the only requirement for Sex and Health education is a small unit as part of the science curriculum. The same report also stated that even the curriculum that is recommended to British schools is vastly inadequate when it comes to educating children about their health. It’s an unfortunate cycle that perpetuates an endless struggle.
Government needs to address the distinct lack of resources that the nation’s poor receives when it comes to education, as well as the current standards it is applying to its schools and its teachers. The differences between the opportunities that the rich get, compared to those who aren’t as well off are simply shocking, as we have seen. Outside of the education system, local, and even nationwide projects that get youth involved within the community, are vital to create a sense of belonging and worth for kids today. Government should also be encouraging businesses to get involved. Youth need to be acknowledged for their value to their community, in all its forms.
In as multicultural city as London is – a city where there is such a diverse range of people expressing their opinions and practicing their beliefs – such unity will always be a considerable battle. In its essence though, education will always cause a greater understanding of what divides some of us and hence, give us the knowledge to overcome our differences. The young just need a commitment from those who they are supposed to be looking up to.