As an organisation working with young people affected by exploitation and crime, Safer London sees daily the devastating impact this has on both individuals and communities. However, we believe that too often public reaction and media focus, with their emphasis on statistics, ‘gangs’ and offending behaviour, overlook the complex issues which lie beneath.
Life in London for many young people is not one of affluence and stability and in recent years the social divide has widened, exaggerating inequalities which already existed. Too many children and young people are growing up in a damaging combination of poverty and social exclusion, where they see a lack of potential and possibility within their lives.
Social injustice and isolation is a common thread within many of the communities where we work. Above average levels of school exclusion and a lack of access to secure housing and regular employment are all key factors which adversely affect the health and wellbeing of young people and their families. It is also evident that cuts in services and support mechanisms, which offered young people respite and a chance to explore positive choices, have significantly decreased.
As young people struggle to see where they belong, this lack of stability and widening inequality leaves them insecure, vulnerable to exploitation, and on high alert. Isolation and fear are key factors in why they may then get drawn into negative activity. There is no doubt that a number of children and young people are also being pressurised and groomed into criminal behaviour.
These issues are complex and deep rooted and will take many years to address, but children and young people must be given hope and be seen as part of the solution. Solutions should be based on what they tell us about the reality of their lives and what they think will create positive change. The goal must be to create safe and stable communities, which build an environment of resilience and ambition for families. This can be achieved by investment in local services, delivered holistically by organisations and local communities working together. This is the only way in which we can truly safeguard children and young people and their futures.