We need to take a public health approach to tackling knife crime which is now a national crisis. There is an absence of police on our streets, having lost 200 in the last couple of years alone in our borough. There are fantastic organisations working in our borough to prevent knife crime, but the cuts to local authorities and youth services means that our community is struggling.
In London, in 2018, there was 15,000 attacks involving knives in the last year—a 50% increase on 2015. Five hundred children have turned up in our hospitals as victims of knife crime in the 2018 alone—an 86% increase in the past four years.
We know it is not just about drugs. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead talked powerfully about the importance of social work. I want to talk about the importance of schools and, as I said, to see the children behind these figures who are falling through the cracks. When we do, we see so many similar issues in the stories they tell, which is why this debate is so important. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) is right to say that this is not a new phenomenon. The gangs might be changing, but we know what works. We know how we can help and step in to support families—not to demonise them, but to recognise their value to our communities.
We know that the motivations for joining gangs and getting involved in violence are complex. Poverty and racism play an important part, but it is also about schools, geographical communities and the support networks—the strong and weak ones—around our young people. We see the grooming process start early, often with children as young as 10. Sometimes the interventions that we see are just too late, young people under 18 who are involved in this activity are being criminally exploited and that they need protection and support.
The all-party parliamentary group on knife crime found that one in three local authorities has no vacancies in their pupil referral unit. Those young people are the most vulnerable. They might be a minority of the school population, but they go on to be a majority of our prison population. They are 10 times more likely to have a mental health need, 20 times more likely to be subject to social services intervention, and 100 times more likely to commit an offence of knife possession. If we work with these young people now and recognise their value, we can stop many of these problems and break some of these cycles.