It takes a community to tackle violent crime

It takes a community to tackle violent crime

Violence on our streets impacts on the whole community.  A family contacted me recently whose 4-year-old child had to witness the horrific aftermath of a stabbing near his home and all too often people tell me they’re nervous to go out after dark even in their own neighbourhoods.  

It shouldn’t have to be like this and it’s no surprise that community groups are stepping forward to say enough is enough.  I recently attended a meeting organised by Stop Knife Crime in Muswell Hill, a community-led effort to find grassroots solutions to rising levels of crime in the neighbourhood.  One of the points that came up time and again was around communication of initiatives already in place and effective joint working across the Police, council, voluntary groups, schools and the community.  It’s an important point as it’s true to say Haringey Council are already doing lots proactively and, despite nearly a decade of cuts, they’re investing in youth services.  Working together with London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, last year they were awarded £1.5milllion for a Community Gold programme to try and prevent young people getting caught up in crime by re-introducing detached youth workers in the borough.  

But it’s impossible to take what’s happening here in Muswell Hill out of the bigger picture of rising violent crime and falling police numbers nationwide.  Bobbies on the beat do matter but the Community Police Officers who provide such crucial reassurance and local knowledge are being taken off their beats – no longer ring fenced to this essential role.  In Hornsey Ward I’ve been told that there is essentially no local police presence at all at present and no likelihood of this changing in the near future.  It’s something I’ve written to the Home Secretary about and I’ve urged her to let me know how many of the supposed new officers will be coming to Haringey and what is being done to ensure Community Police Officers are present and patrolling in the areas they serve.  

At the community meeting there was also strong support for early intervention work – a point I have repeatedly made in Parliament.  I’d like to see a special fund for children at risk of school exclusion as a high percentage of perpetrators were excluded from school in their early teens.  It’s something I met with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about and I will continue to make the case at every opportunity.  

In the meantime, I’ve met with London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing Sophie Linden along with David Lammy MP and Haringey Council’s communities lead Cllr Mark Blake and been in discussions with Haringey’s Borough Commander about the establishment of a Youth Safety Taskforce to address some of the problems our community is seeing including youth violence and a lack of trust in the police.  It’s an idea we’ve seen work well in Camden and I’m keen to do anything I can to support.

It takes a community to tackle violent crime and it is inspiring to see Muswell Hill residents’ take that lead.  Search “Stop knife crime in Muswell Hill” to find their group on facebook and get involved.  

Catherine West

T: 020 7219 6141

W: www.catherinewest.org.uk 

This is a climate emergency – we must act now

This is a climate emergency – we must act now

When the UK became the first Parliament in the world to declare “an environment and climate emergency” last month, I felt a glimmer of hope that the urgency of the situation is finally getting through.

It has certainly seemed in recent months like a ripple has turned into a wave. Sir David Attenborough’s powerful documentary warning of “irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies”, Extinction Rebellion’s peaceful disruption in central London and Greta Thunberg’s #ClimateStrike that started with one girl standing outside the Swedish Parliament demanding action and spread across the world. When I met some of the young people from Hornsey & Wood Green who’d joined the #ClimateStrike protests, they inspired me with their passion for change and frustration at our generation’s failure to protect the next generation’s future.

There’s a lot already happening locally. Haringey Council recently declared its own climate emergency and has committed to working towards making Haringey carbon neutral by 2030. It’s an ambitious target but it needs to be if we’re to limit global temperature rises to less than 1.5 degrees.

Local residents are doing their bit too. I took part in an excellent public meeting on “Haringey in a time of climate emergency” which explored what residents can do to defend our environment and joined local campaigners in Muswell Hill calling on HSBC to stop funding fossil fuels. I’m a strong supporter of Crouch End’s thriving “plastic free community”, working to reduce plastic use and eliminate the avoidable single-use plastics that cause so much harm.  It’s one of over 400 across the UK and I’ve tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling on the Government to support the creation of even more.

But this Government now needs to step up and lead by example. I’m concerned that the vast majority of Conservatives abstained rather than actively support Labour’s call to declare a climate emergency and their record in office has seen a worrying fall in green investment and a lack of backing for renewable energy sources from onshore wind to the solar industry.

That we face a climate and environmental emergency is undeniable. Parliament’s declaration can’t be just words, it needs to kickstart a green industrial revolution that propels us towards a zero-carbon future.  For starters I’d like to see a seven-fold increase in offshore wind, a doubling of onshore wind and a near tripling of solar power, to enable us to power 19.5 million homes and generate over 400,000 jobs.  I also believe we should make all new homes zero-carbon and decarbonise our transport system. It’s the most emitting sector of the UK economy, something I highlighted in the recent Parliamentary debate, but progress has been shamefully slow.

I had the honour of listening to Greta Thunberg when she visited Parliament recently. As she wisely said, we can no longer shirk responsibility, we must follow the science – and we must do it now. If we don’t, this “ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.”

Catherine West MP

Labour MP for Hornsey & Wood Green

This is a climate emergency – we must act now

We must do more to win the fight against knife crime

There is not one easy solution to the worrying escalation of violence we’ve seen on our streets in recent weeks. An appalling stabbing on the 134 bus towards Muswell Hill left one teenager hospitalised with serious injuries and another charged with attempted murder. At the other side of my constituency in Wood Green, 19-year-old Kamali Gabbidon-Lynck lost his life from knife and gun wounds – metres away from where my constituent Kelvin Odunyi died less than a year ago.

Knife crime is up by 11% in London and a staggering 44% in the Home Counties and our community is calling for more action to keep our streets and our children safe.

The Prime Minister may wish to pretend otherwise but policing and “bobbies on the beat” matters.  I’ve continually called on the Home Secretary to cancel further cuts to our stretched Police forces and provide the Met with long-term certainty of funding to recruit the officers London needs. The one-off money pledged by the Chancellor in the recent Spring Statement doesn’t do that and anyway is a drop in the ocean. Even if the entire fund was for London (which it isn’t), it would only replace 10% of the cuts the Met have had to deal with during the last nine years of austerity.

Policing is however only part of the picture. The causes of youth violence are complex, and the Government needs to recognise it as a public health crisis that requires a cross governmental urgent response. In Scotland, where that public health approach is now the norm, violent crime levels have plummeted.

One thing I’d like to see is a special fund for children at risk of school exclusion as a high percentage of perpetrators were excluded from school in their early teens. It’s something I raised with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently and I am pleased he has agreed to meet to discuss it further.

A fund that helped families who might be struggling and provided continuity of care and support to children at risk of exclusion could help beat the “PRU to prison pipeline” of disengaged young people in pupil referral units getting into a cycle of trouble. All too often excluded children bounce round the system whilst falling further away from mainstream education. Crucially, a fund should also include targeted support and training for school staff who are on the frontline of what can be incredibly difficult situations at the same time as they are seeing their funding slashed.

I’ve been a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime since it was first founded and we’ve met with offenders who’ve spoken about their experiences, from poverty to mental health, social media to their own safety fears. So many had experienced trauma in their own backgrounds, domestic violence or bereavement, with a high percentage struggling with school and special educational needs. Haringey’s own research on the 20 most prolific offenders found 65% were failing at school by age 10 with 11 being the average age of their first fixed or permanent exclusion.

I hope the Secretary of State listens when I meet him, because supporting these children, their families and schools is crucial in treating this epidemic – and cutting it off at source.

It takes a community to tackle violent crime

We need another public vote to get out of this Brexit mess

Whichever way you voted in the Brexit referendum, I struggle to believe you could be happy with where we are now.  Hornsey & Wood Green secured one of the highest remain votes in the country back in 2016 and judging by the hundreds of emails I still receive each week on the subject, the belief that our country is making a very damaging mistake is only growing stronger.

That’s certainly my view.  I voted against triggering Article 50 because I didn’t believe the Government had a plan and was one of the first MPs to support a public vote on the final deal with the option to “remain”.  With the Prime Minister’s deal falling to an overwhelming historic defeat, I want to see that happen now.

People voted to leave for different reasons, but since the referendum, the Prime Minister has tried to pretend they could have it all whilst refusing to acknowledge that her deal would leave our country poorer and governed by rules we no longer have a say in making.  Instead of seeking to find a consensus, she’s failed to reach out to remain voters in the House or across the country, failed to stand up for the three million EU citizens who have made the UK their home and set negotiating “red lines” that meant her deal was always doomed to fail.  I’m extremely concerned at reports that she’s now considering amending the Good Friday agreement that has helped keep peace in Northern Ireland for 20 years.

After her deal was rejected, the PM stood up in Parliament and said we must “listen to the British people who want this issue settled”.  I agree.  But to my mind, that means asking them what they want now when it’s so much clearer what Brexit will actually mean for their lives, their jobs and their families.

I’m not enthusiastic about another referendum.  The rise in vitriol in our national debate during the last was shameful.  In the years since the debate has continued to be angry and divisive and the appalling abuse so often targeted at women MPs is a worrying example of growing intolerance to the difference of opinion.

But that can’t be a reason to close down debate on an issue so critical for the future of our country.  Nor can we afford to let more time run out.   I’m supporting Labour Yvette Cooper’s amendment that will give Parliament a vote on whether to extend Article 50 so we don’t risk ending up with no deal by accident.  Whilst it’s clear there is no Parliamentary majority for “no deal” that remains the default if an agreement isn’t reached by 29 March.

The Prime Minister’s deal suffered the biggest Parliamentary defeat in British history.  It’s dead in the water and the Government should now seek to extend Article 50 and propose legislation to prepare for a public vote.

Catherine West
Member of Parliament for Hornsey & Wood Green

Local App Helps Growing Number of Homeless People Access Support

Local App Helps Growing Number of Homeless People Access Support

I spoke out in Parliament recently about an upsetting case I was dealing with where a vulnerable man had resorted to sleeping in a bin chamber in Noel Park. It is 2018 and we are one of the world’s biggest economies, yet this tragic case could have come right out of a Dickensian novel.  Sadly, he’s not unusual. Walk under the bridge at Finsbury Park and you will see the belongings and bedding of people who have set up home there.

Homelessness and rough sleeping should not be seen as inevitable in a country as well-off as ours. Yet since 2010, the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled – with the latest figures revealing a 169% increase, the highest on record. On top of that is the hidden homeless, the families left in supposedly temporary accommodation for two years or those living on a friend’s sofa because they have nowhere else to go. It is a scandal, but not a surprising one when these years have seen a steep drop in investment for new affordable homes; over £5 billion cut from housing benefit; soaring rents in the private sector and significant cuts to funding for homelessness services.

Yet in the midst of this gloom, there are people working to make a difference.  In October last year Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen launched a website that directs homeless people to help. Using GPS technology, their website www.nextmeal.co.uk points the user to their nearest hot meal, shelter or advice centre.

Inspired by seeing technology at bus-stops showing when to expect the next bus, Next Meal is a simple response to the human stories behind the stark statistics and makes it easier for members of the public to help. Next Meal cards, explaining the service, are available to download from the website and since launching it’s now helping more than 40 rough sleepers a day in London and has connected with over 120 community support centres across England and Scotland. The experience of Next Meal has been that many rough sleepers have a smart phone, or at least access to one and the very act of handing over a card is a chance for the human and humane contact that so many rough sleepers lack.  Of course it isn’t in itself a solution, but it is a way of showing humanity to some of the most vulnerable in our society.  I’m absolutely delighted that Martin Stone, my constituent, who has been the director of Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen for over 10 years, has recently received the Prime Minister’s ‘Point of Light’ award for his work.

In recent weeks the Government has published its strategy to end rough sleeping by 2027, accompanied by £50 million funding, and finally bowed to pressure and agreed supported housing and homeless hostels can continue to be funded through housing benefit. This is extremely welcome, but it is nowhere near enough. 2027 is a distant dream for people like the man living in the bin shelter in Noel Park. I’d like to see 8,000 genuinely affordable homes made available now for people with a history of sleeping on the streets, a firm pledge to tackle the root causes of rising homelessness and adequate funding for the support services that do such crucial work.

People are slipping through the cracks, and as a society we must ensure that the poorest and the most vulnerable have access to welfare and housing.