The government has been accused of not having “the right sense of urgency” in dealing with knife crime after cabinet ministers delivered conflicting messages in their approach to the issue.
Following the high-profile deaths of two teenagers over the weekend, Home Secretary Sajid Javid admitted there is “no hiding” from “a cycle of senseless violence that is robbing young people of their lives right across this country”.
Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Javid told MPs: “Serious violence is on the rise, communities are being torn apart and families are losing their children.”
As well as being grilled over the impact of police funding cuts, the home secretary also faced claims the government is failing to present a coordinated response to tackling knife crime.
Mr Javid faced MPs hours after Health Secretary Matt Hancock used a radio interview to dismiss suggestions knife crime should be treated as a “public health issue”.
“If you try to say it’s a public health issue that implies it’s nobody’s fault,” he told LBC Radio.
“The criminals who are murderers, it’s their fault. And that’s got to be the starting point.”
However, Mr Javid later insisted it was the government’s intention to take a public health approach to knife crime, which he has previously announced.
Raising the prospect of government departments and agencies having a legal duty to treat knife crime like a disease, Mr Javid told MPs: “The public health approach which is something I announced towards the end of last year.
“That, again, was through listening to experience from both other parts of the UK, from other countries as well, who have also seen a similar rise in serious violence.
“We should learn from wherever we can and I think it is important to have such an approach which requires all government departments, all agencies of government to treat serious violent as the way we would treat, for example, a disease, to prioritise it and to make it a statutory duty.”
Mr Javid promised a “consultation” on new legislation making it compulsory for police, hospitals, teachers and social workers to take a public health approach to knife crime would begin “very shortly”.
Labour’s shadow policing minister Louise Haigh, who asked the urgent question of Mr Javid, claimed it was “shocking” that Mr Hancock “didn’t appear to know this was the approach adopted by his own government”.
She gave Labour’s backing to a public health approach towards knife crime, but also called for Prime Minister Theresa May to “convene a crisis summit backed with emergency funding”.
The confusion among cabinet ministers was also criticised by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, the chair of the House of Commons’ home affairs committee.
“There isn’t simply the right sense of urgency and grip across the government on this crucial issue,” she said.
Ms Haigh also attacked restrictions to police budgets, adding: “We cannot pretend the cuts to policing have not made our country less safe.
“Sadly, the prime minister and other members of her cabinet continue to deny this crucial link.”
Mr Javid replied that there is “no one single cause” to increasing violent crime, but admitted “having the right amount of resources is vitally important”.
He hailed an increase of £970m to police funding in England and Wales for this year, claiming it was “almost double the increase of the year before” and “the largest increase since 2010”.
The home secretary vowed this would “lead to a significant rise in capabilities, including the number of officers”.
Mrs May, who notably called on police officers to stop “crying wolf” about cuts during her own spell as home secretary, struck a different tone earlier in the day.
She insisted there was “no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers”.
“What matters is how we ensure that police are responding to these criminal acts when they take place, that people are brought to justice,” she said.
“But what also matters is, as a government, that we look at the issues which underpin, that underlie, this use of knives and that we act on those.”
However, Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Graham McNulty said putting extra officers on duty in London this weekend “made a difference” by allowing “more than 2,500 stop and searches in the last three days alone”.
John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, branded the prime minister “delusional” for “steadfastly refusing to acknowledge what is plain for everyone else to see”.
He said: “Policing has been stripped to the bone and the consequences are clear – splashed across newspapers front pages and TV news bulletins; children being murdered on our streets.”