Festus Akinbusoye: The Home Office’s latest anti-knife crime campaign is not racist

Festus Akinbusoye is Chairman of Milton Keynes Federation and was 2015 Parliamentary candidate for West Ham. He runs his own business.

The Home Office announcement of placing information on chicken-boxes at chicken shops across the country, aimed mainly at young people to deter them away from knife crime looked quite cutting-edge.

That is, until commentators started carving it to pieces, saying it is racist.  Their reasoning seemed to be that is somehow stereotyping black people as users of these shops.

Let me be clear. I am fully in support of us doing whatever needs to be done to help people drop the knives they feel a need to carry to keep them safe. I am all for consistent and practical measures aimed at engaging young people – where they are, to inspire them to better things as an alternative to being in gangs. So, as a public health infomercial, I support this Home Office initiative.

I know of families and friends who have been affected by gun and knife crime. Two have been fatal. One was just 16 years old, and the other in his early 20s. I too have witnessed, as a young man growing up in East London, a man covered in blood being chased by another carrying what looked like a machete. I couldn’t say what happened to this man, but the thought still haunts me some 20 years later.

There certainly isn’t a single solution to end violent crime on our streets. However, it is frankly just as ridiculous to turn violent crime into a race thing as it is to racialise solutions. Identifying a correlation between a specific crime and ethnicity will not cause any intelligent person to draw a causal link.

For example, and based on my experience of working with young offenders in and out of prisons, there is nothing yet that I have seen which causes me to believe that young black boys are any more violent or aggressive than their white or Asian counterparts. Nevertheless, data does show that a disproportionate number of young black boys are found with knives, and convicted of knife crimes, than their peers from other ethnic groups. The same couldn’t be said for other forms of crime.

I therefore do not buy the racism argument being levelled at the Home Office on this occasion, because the chicken shops being targeted are not just in predominantly black areas, but all parts of the country. If we are to treat gun and knife crime as a public health issue, engaging young people at the place where they are most likely to be found should be welcome. The use of iInstagram, for example, as a way of engaging young people on the subject of knife crime is a really good idea.

This is where I think the Home Office might wish to revisit this otherwise positive ‘chicken box’ strategy. Here is just one reason why. I live in rural Bedfordshire, where we do not have the typical chicken shops like the ones in our urban centres. Nonetheless, we do have growing concerns about ‘county line’ drug gangs moving their nefarious trade into rural areas. In fact, there is some evidence to show that knife crime is increasing at a faster rate in rural areas than in larger urban parts of the UK.

As alluded to earlier, this initiative may run the risk of assuming that knife crime and the gang culture that surround it are city centred – so resources are focused on those areas only. This will be mistake.

Additionally, while it is essential that this form of passive engagement continues – in chicken shops, social media, online and placed adverts, and so on – it is equally crucial that we invest more in support services within communities and for parents who might be struggling to keep their children out of gangs.

Far from taking away a parent’s rightful responsibility for caring for their child, it is about letting that parent know there is help available once it has been put in place. A quick search online will tell you there is not much support out there at all for parents who are worried about their child falling victim to grooming by gang leaders.

There are multiple reasons why people carry knives or join gangs, and there will have to be a multi-pronged approach to tackling these, including tougher prison sentences aimed at rehabilitation and reform. It is however perfectly sensible to also include in this deal useful information on chicken boxes, billboards and posters, alongside investment in community and home based support.

This is not about race, it is about keeping our communities safe.

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Patrick Spencer: What the new Government should do to ensure migrants are better skilled – and supported

Patrick Spencer is Head of Work and Welfare at the Centre for Social Justice.

The debate around immigration has become fraught to the point of complete intransigence in recent years. Events as close to home as the Grenfell Tower tragedy and as far afield as the Syrian civil war have brought the subject to the fore again. Inflammatory rhetoric here as well as in other countries hasn’t helped. As we leave the European Union, cooler heads must prevail.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is today releasing a report that brings a level-headedness to the debate that is sorely needed. Importantly, it places the interests of immigrants squarely at the centre of its proposals. Immigration policy should not just be about who is allowed to come and work in Britain, but also how we support those people who do, so that they can avoid the trappings of low pay, unsafe working conditions, crime, social marginalisation and poverty.

The reality is that uncontrolled immigration growth over the last 15 to 20 years has worked – to a point. Our services, manufacturing and agricultural industries have benefited from skilled and inexpensive labour from EU new member States.

However, the economic costs of low-skilled immigration have been both wage stagnation at the bottom end of the income spectrum – analysis at the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration found that “an inflow of immigrants of the size of 1 per cent of the native population would lead to a 0∙6 per cent decrease at the 5th wage percentile and a 0∙5 per cent decrease at the 10th wage percentile” – and low levels of productivity boosting capital investment. High-skilled immigration has had the opposite effect though, increasing wages, productivity, innovation and capital investment.

In the long term, it is also likely that the British economy will demand less low-skilled labour. Automation, technology and changing firm dynamics are likely to mean a greater focus on hiring higher-skilled workers, and more fluid jobs in which individuals are expected to take on multiple roles and work across multiple teams. The CSJ argues therefore that is irresponsible to continue to operate an immigration system that is deaf to the demands of our changing economy, and risks leaving migrant labourers unemployed and at risk of falling in to poverty.

It is for this reason that the CSJ’s first policy recommendation for this Conservative Government post-Brexit is folding all EU immigration in to the existing Tier 2 skilled immigration system, and tightening up the eligibility for Tier 2 applicants so that they are genuinely skilled and can command a wage well above the UK median. Key to this recommendation is carving out occupations that are deemed of strategic interest to the UK economy, for instance nurses and doctors who come to work in our NHS, but do not earn above average salaries.

The Government’s responsibility to immigrants should not stop there. For those that do come to Britain legally, whether under refugee status or another route, we must make sure support is there to reduce the risk that they and their children become socially marginalised, end up in low-paid work or unemployed, and get stuck in the criminal justice system. It is naïve to think the immigration policy debate ends on day two.

In that vein, the CSJ also recommend more integrated support for refugees when they come to Britain, including better financial support, longer term housing options and help with English speaking skills. The report also calls for a beefing up of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement financial powers and reach. There are potentially thousands of foreign individuals kept in forced servitude in Britain today, and many more working in unsafe conditions for illegally low pay.

Finally, it is high time the Government addresses the huge disparities in economic outcomes among minority and indigenous ethnic groups. Generations of immigrants from some groups still perform poorly in the education system, labour market and criminal justice system.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that poverty rates among Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Groups are twice as high as for White British groups. Dame Louise Casey discovered that individuals of South East Asian and Caribbean descent were three times and twice as likely to live in deprived parts of the UK, when compared to White British groups. Just one third of Bangladeshi women living in Britain are in employment compared to three quarters of White British women. One in five Black African and Black Caribbean men and almost one in four Mixed Race men are economically inactive. Unless the Government addresses the problem with real gusto, it will persist.

This report calls for calmer and more long-term thinking on immigration policy that prioritises high-skilled immigration and increases support for parts of the country that have struggled due to uncontrolled low-skilled immigration. Public opinion reflects this – polling by Hanbury Strategy earlier this year found that 51 per cent of the UK public recognise that not all parts of the UK have benefited from immigration, while YouGov polling in 2018 found that ‘treating EU citizens who want to come and live in the UK the same as people from elsewhere in the world’ was supported by 65 per cent of respondents and scrapping the limit of high skilled immigrants was supported by 46 per cent of respondents.

This is a great opportunity for the new Government to fix this long-standing issue of contention in British politics for the long term.

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