Let’s deal with the root cause of what’s happening with our youth

Throughout history youth have rebelled against the system, their parents, those in authority and joined gangs. For many young people, this has been a rite of passage in their transition to adulthood. It is reported that in the 1920s Sheffield was rampant with gangs, so much so, it earned the nickname Little Chicago.

Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 9:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 2:31 pm
Knife crime in Sheffield has more than doubled in nine years, and there is a greater likelihood of carrying knives among gang members

Most young people are not part of criminal gangs and are doing great things that often go unheard.

Unfortunately, it is the minority who hog the headlines because of devastating impact their behaviour creates. Knife crime in Sheffield has more than doubled over the past nine years. Whilst knife crime is not synonymous with gang affiliation, there is a greater likelihood of carrying knives amongst gang members. And gang related knife crime is usually of a more violent nature.

In 2009 the Centre for Social Justice produced a report called Dying to Belong, which was an independent overview of the landscape of gangs and gang culture in Britain then. The report recognised that gangs are not a homogenous group and that they are young people, who feel marginalised and disenfranchised in their communities. It stated that they get a sense of belonging and being part of a family from being in gangs.

The report acknowledged that gang culture in Britain was becoming increasingly entrenched in our most disadvantaged communities. It urged central and local government to take immediate action and set out several recommendations. Yet it was only two years later we experienced the 2011 riots.

Following the 2011 riots the report ‘Ending Gang and Youth Violence: A Cross-Government Report’ was published. The report made bold claims as to what would be achieved by the end of that Parliament. Claims such as a reduction in the number of young people killed or seriously wounded by youth or gang-related violence; and all local areas with a serious youth violence or gang problem would be able to point to reductions across a range of indicators, for example, an improvement in well-being for individuals, families and communities. But here we are today and what has changed?

There are many factors that contribute to young people joining gangs. Cuts to youth services, social deprivation, they’ve got nothing better to do, the breakdown of the family unit, protection, social media, peer pressure, a sense of belonging, and so on. As a teenager growing up in Sheffield, there were numerous youth clubs that I could go to that kept us entertained and occupied. Sheffield Futures reported last year that since 2010, 600+ youth centres have closed and is having a devastating effect on disadvantaged young people.

But these young people were not born criminals. Most of them would have been sweet and adorable as babies. What breaks down so that these young people turn to this kind of lifestyle?

They are all somebody’s children and I’m sure most of them will have come into this world being loved. How can things go so wrong in society that they turn from being loving children to not having a heart to the devastation they are causing in other peoples’ lives.

At 14 years old the son of a friend was headed down that path. In the space of a year he’d turned from a sweet, loving boy to a very angry young man. It started with him missing the odd day from school, to him refusing to go and refusing to do what his mum asked him to do, and their relationship completely broke down.

A bright boy, he started getting into trouble at school and his grades were plummeting. He was bordering on getting involved in criminal activity. At the end of her tether, his mum sought help through the school and social services. With support from extended family he relocated and changed school. One year on there has been a complete turnaround in him. His grades are up, and the relationship with his mum has been restored. The right intervention steered him back in the right direction.

Social deprivation is often stated as the reason why many youths go down that path. It is reported that the leaders of one gang can earn up to £130,000 and their drug runners £26,000. Is it the attraction of a barrierless entry to a 6-figure income that is the pull? In the research from Dr John Pitts in which this was highlighted, he wrote: “Clearly, there is a ‘good’ living to be made from the drugs business at all levels for those with the requisite skills, knowledge and disposition.”

These young people have picked up skills in sales, marketing, negotiation, etc.Imagine if these skills were channelled towards legal entrepreneurial activity.So rather than tear down their communities, they utilise their skills in building them up. Creating better lives for themselves and their families, a life where they can sleep peacefully at night.

With each generation we see rebelling of disaffected youth, involvement in gangs and criminal activity. An article on the BBC’s History Extra website states that ‘Similar anxieties were voiced across England’s major cities during the latter decades of the 19th century.Then, as now, most gang members were young men, and gangs were overwhelmingly concentrated in districts already blighted by poverty, ill-health and unemployment.’ It’s the same story but different times.

Over the years we have seen many enquiries and reports commissioned looking at youth crime when the situation reaches epic proportions.Taxpayers’ money is poured into talking about finding solutions, yet the problem still exists. Prevention is better than cure and a look at gang affiliation and youth crime throughout history should teach us that we need to address the root cause.