Knife crime: poverty and inequality underpin lethal street violence, says Professor Fiona Brookman

Fiona Brookman Criminology KNife Crime Event

Professor Brookman with members of the Youth Select Committee

Fiona Brookman, professor of Criminology, has contributed to a UK Parliament report on knife crime.  

Her evidence found that the Government was not "listening to young people" and that social factors such as poverty and inequality are the main underpinning drivers of knife crime.  

The report, produced by the British Youth Council Youth Select Committee and presented to the House of Commons, considers the Government’s current strategy to tackle knife crime and its limitations, and what still needs to be done.  

Professor Brookman was invited by the Youth Select Committee to provide oral and written evidence based upon research evidence, including her own.  

Her evidence, summarised below, directly informed the report’s recommendations and conclusions.

Professor Brookman's key findings and recommendations:

  • More detailed qualitative research with young people is needed to help to better understand knife violence and the drivers. Understanding the ‘lived reality’ of young people in diverse communities is vital in any attempts to tackle violence (knife related or otherwise). 

  • Violent street cultures emerge in response to structural disadvantage (Brookman, 2010). The Government needs to tackle the structural roots of youth violence through sustained investment to address inequality and poverty as opposed to looking for short-term ‘fixes’. 

  • Meaningful engagement with young people is key. There is considerable scope to involve young people (current and former offenders, victims where possible and young people in general) in a broad range of Government and other organisations’ groups and forums and, crucially, in the design and delivery of programmes of work that might help to steer young people away from violence and towards positive life choices. Far too often such groups fail to include the voice of young people who, after all, know better than any adults, what it is and how it feels to be a young person today. 

  • The importance of engaging credible messengers and supporters in the introduction of any new initiatives and the problems with increasing/re-introducing ‘stop and search’ strategies.  Given the controversy of stop and search, and well-documented damaging impacts upon police-community trust and relationships, communities need to understand why and how this might be helpful as part of a wider set of proposed solutions. 

  • Finally, the importance of improving police-community relations. Witnesses are unwilling (for many reasons) to engage with police (including fear of retaliation, distrust of police, lack of effective witness protection). Communities are the lynchpin to solving homicide and so it is important to find new ways to engage difficult-to-reach communities and their members who often hold important information.  The FLO (Family Liaison Officer) role employed during homicide investigations (Brookman & McGarry, 2015) often works very well but could, with appropriate resources, be expanded to non-fatal violent crime investigations or used even more comprehensively in all murder enquiries. 

 Download the report here.