Chuka Umunna has said schools in Britain "do not get it right" on how they engage with young people on youth violence.
He made the comments to BuzzFeed News at the launch of the Youth Violence Commission, which was established to work with young people, communities, and experts to understand the causes of youth violence.
In 2015, figures showed youth violence in London was on the rise. Knife crime with injury was up 14%, while serious youth violence had increased by 8% in the capital.
“I don’t always think we get it right in our schools. I often find when I go into a secondary school and ask them to bring a group [in to talk about youth violence]... they bring together people who aren’t really engaged in this [area of work] but have a view on it,” Umunna said.
The Streatham MP also said that Tenant and Resident Associations (TRAs) have "an important role to play” in tackling youth violence. “Some of our TRAs refused to accept what happens on their estate," he added. "The first hurdle is people accepting what is happening.”
The Youth Violence Commission was set up by Vicky Foxcroft, the MP for Lewisham Deptford, after five young people in her constituency were murdered.
It includes five members of parliament from across the political spectrum: Umunna (Labour), Conservative MPs James Cleverly and Mark Field, Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland Democrat, and Chris Stephens, a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP.
More than100 people from various backgrounds attended Tuesday's event at South Bank University, including such groups as London Youth, Youth People Insight and Parents Voice. The audience included young people aged between 15-20, who gave their opinions on the matter.
Ebi Iyere, a 23-year-old student from London and the first ever ambassador for the commission, told the conference: “The assumption that youth violence is just a gang problem is far-fetched and the assumption that it is a male-dominated problem is far-fetched. Females are also affected through participation or affiliation. Females do participate in violent acts.”
Iyere, who is currently training to be a youth worker, said a lot of young people were experiencing trauma by being exposed to friends being injured or stabbed at the hands of other young people. She told BuzzFeed News: “If we can march for things that [are] happening in America [like Black Lives Matter], we can march for the things that [are] happening here.”
Iyere said conflict management needs to be introduced to young people early on to prevent violence and urged her peers to get involved in the commission.
"It doesn’t matter what walk of life you are from," she said.
During her speech, the young woman warned that the portrayal of young people in the media had a damaging effect. “I’ve lost about five people to violence, if we continue to talk about them like they are 'bad kids' and continue to label them [the] effects will be left in our communities.”
Umunna said he has discussed the issue with Iyere at his weekly constituency surgery. “It is very rare that you will see young people in panel meetings," he said.
He agreed with Iyere that the issue is seen as a male-dominated problem: “We need to make sure young women are in the room. Too often in the past we have seen it as an issue against our boys.”
Umunna also warned that the scale of the problem went beyond what was recorded in official statistics. If you go to... A&E they will give you the true figures week in week out [of] what's happening [in] our street," the MP added.
“We have a lot of traumatised young people in our community. This is a health and wellbeing issue young people are facing."
Vicky Foxcroft MP said "long term solutions" were needed in order to combat youth violence. “Why are people not shouting about this?” she asked.
She also spoke about the media’s portrayal of young people: “Why don't we have enough positive images of young people out there? We must change this. We want to ensure your voices are heard.”
Chris Stephens MP for Glasgow South West said “If we [are] to look [at] this as a black issue and a youth issue we're making a grave mistake. There’s a real opportunity for politicians to help.”
Victoria Sanusi is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Victoria Sanusi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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