The London Mayor has announced a Violence Reduction Unit for London. It’s a timely and necessary move from Sadiq Khan - one he should be applauded for. But the announcement of a VRU is just the beginning - the greatest challenge, of course, will be to make it happen. It’s going to require all of us. Yes, all of us.
For years I have dreamt of a London-wide, whole city approach to tackling serious youth violence. I’m a Clinical Psychologist, which means I spend a lot of time working with young people on the things in their heads. And what’s in their heads is the result of what’s in their worlds. It’s not about what’s wrong with them but what HAPPENED to them. And this is why anything other than a public health approach has never made any sense to me.
But what exactly is a “public health” approach to youth violence? Well, it’s one that says violence is both predictable and preventable. One where policing alone isn’t the solution. And which focuses on the things that cause young people to get drawn into violence in the first place. It’s about root causes - things like abuse, neglect, poverty, mental ill health and domestic violence; the serious things that harm our young people and blight our communities. But which are often silent or unseen. The public health approach is therefore essential but, by definition, long-term and slow-moving. With all the will in the world, we can’t mend these things in a day.
But we can make a start now that the Mayor has opened the door. We will need to work from the ground up - and with young people at the heart of everything. Without them we won’t succeed. This has to be about them, with them and for them. To say we are taking a public health approach but not starting on our streets would be entirely missing an opportunity. In fact, it would be entirely missing the point.