Since 2010, the Tories and Lib Dems have cut £1 billion from the Metropolitan Police budget and reduced the number of police officers nationally by more than 21,000. They have closed hundreds of local courts, stripped the funding from vital youth services and decimated the funding for Councils to provide children’s services. At every turn, the support services and interventions which keep young people safe and stop violence from escalating have been cut to the bone and as a result the most serious and devastating crimes are increasing; and our justice system is increasingly inaccessible. I have been working to hold the Government to account for the damage their recklessness and wilful lack of concern is doing to our communities and calling for the reforms our community needs.
In recent years we have lost far too many young people to serious violence. On too many occasions I have sat in the living rooms of bereaved parents, facing unbearable loss. Each one of these deaths is one too many. Yet under the Tories, incidents of knife and gun crime are increasing across the whole country. The public health approach to tackling serious violence involves treating violence like a disease, addressing the causes, and stopping its spread. It involves youth services, mental health services, schools, hospitals, community organisations, criminal justice system and police all working together to support those who are most at risk, support those who are traumatised, provide positive activities and opportunities to engage young people and rehabilitate offenders. Yet instead of investing in our young people and the public health approach, the Tories have cut the services that matter most, preferring cynical piecemeal headline-grabbing to an evidence-based approach.
I have been working to engage our community in working together to tackle serious violence and lobby for the resources we need to do so. I have directly supported the families of victims of serious violence, organised and attended community meetings, supported inspirational organisations working with young people in our community, and through my work as Patron of the Advocacy Academy sought to empower young people to be agents of change in our society.
In Parliament I have spoken for the families of the victims, campaigned for the resources our area needs, and working with the APPG on Knife Crime, sought to understand the causes of violence and the most effective ways to address it.
Over the past two years, we have seen widespread protests across our area calling for action to improve policing. Last summer’s #BlackLivesMatter protests and recent protests following the murder of Sarah Everard powerfully demonstrate the need for reforms to rebuild community trust in policing.
The Government has committed to further reviews on what action to take, but this ignores the extensive work by previous commissions. The Lammy Review reported in 2017, but the Government has still failed to implement all its recommendations. I am clear that we need action now rather than continually delaying. I have been pressing Ministers to ensure the Lammy Review is fully implemented, and to ensure the Cabinet Office’s Commission on Racial Equality leads to genuine changes.
We also need to see urgent action to ensure women can feel safe approaching police and that their concerns will be taken seriously. The tragic murder of Sarah Everard and the grotesque actions of police investigating the murder of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman have shattered the trust of women in London’s police. With other Labour MPs, I am working closely on this issue including calling on the Home Secretary to introduce mandatory training in misogyny for all police officers, and regularly pressing the leadership of the Met to work to rebuild the trust of women.
I know that our local officers are very aware of these issues. I meet regularly with the Borough Commander to discuss community concerns, for example the overuse of Stop and Search powers, and to press for the changes we need to see at a local level.
A fully functioning and effective justice system is vital for our democracy, for delivering justice, for supporting the victims of crime and rehabilitating offenders. Since 2010 the Tories and Lib Dems have made our justice system a casualty of austerity. Consistent underfunding and the haphazard and incompetent reforms introduced by Chris Grayling have resulted in a courts system which is buckling under pressure.
In 2018 Lambeth County Court, the court which residents in Dulwich and West Norwood had to attend if they were at risk of losing their home, closed. Despite assurances that housing cases from Lambeth would be moved to nearby Camberwell Magistrates Court, it was subsequently announced that Camberwell would also close. The workload from Lambeth was moved to Clerkenwell Court. meaning that my constituents who have to attend court now have to travel further, but it has also led to a catalogue of problems including extensive delays and administrative chaos, lost files and a reported increase in defendants failing to turn up to court, reducing their chances of receiving a comprehensive hearing.
I foresaw these issues prior to the closure of Lambeth County Court and vigorously opposed this decision. I led a debate in Parliament on the national court closure programme and I made detailed representations to the government on the impacts that I believed would result for my constituents. In 2017, I secured a Westminster Hall Debate on the closure, in which the Minister made a number of commitments which have not been fulfilled. Throughout this period, I have been working closely with local legal aid lawyers and have taken them to meet with Minister to raise our concerns.
During the coronavirus pandemic, many courts have seen extended periods of closure creating a growing backlog of cases. This leaves victims and the accused in a state of limbo waiting to hear the outcomes of trials. The Minister has previously promised digital innovations would be modernise the courts system, but these have provided no relief during the pandemic. I have been urging Ministers to ensure cases are heard as soon as possible and for action to reduce waiting times.
Since the appalling kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard on a busy street in Lambeth, I have been contacted by many women to share their personal experience of harassment and male violence. Since then, many women have tragically been injured or killed in acts of male violence including Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and Sabina Nessa. These events have prompted the near-universal recognition amongst women that all of us experience fear on our streets and public spaces at night, and all of us adapt our behaviour, living as if what happened to them could happen to us too.
Recent research by UN women found that a staggering 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. We also know that on average a woman is killed by a man in the UK every three days. I am clear that action is needed now to prevent male violence and address its underlying causes.
I fully support the campaign to class misogyny as a hate crime and ensure police have enforcement powers against much of the casual everyday harassment women experience in public spaces. Several police forces have started to record this data and it is a major victory that Labour Peers in the House of Lords forced the Government to commit to requiring police forces to identify and record any crimes of violence against the person based on a hatred of women, including stalking, harassment, and sexual offences. This change, which we have campaigned for over many years, will happen in September.
This must be supported by robust training to teach police officers how to handle these cases so that women in London can have confidence in reporting crimes. Too often women’s concerns have not been taken seriously by authorities until it is too late. Improving training for officers is a vital step in building trust between women and the police.
We also need to see urgent action to address the shocking fall in convictions for rape in our courts and tougher sentencing for violence against women. It is unacceptable that the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill focuses more strongly on protecting statues than it does on protecting women from violence.
Beyond the criminal justice system, we need to see reforms to address the root causes of male violence. This must include reform of the education curriculum, to ensure boys are taught about issues of consent and respect for women. I have long called for increased investment in support services and refuges for survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse to be provided as a national network so that access is not a postcode lottery.
Horrifically, two women a week are killed as a result of a domestic violence and 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence and we know that cases have increased during the pandemic. . Yet, the Tories and Lib Dems oversaw the closure of many domestic abuse refuges, leaving some areas of the country with no refuge provision at all. More widely, the devastating cuts to public services such as the NHS, capped the Local Housing Allowance and refused to introduce automatic split payments for Universal Credit, denying women survivors of abuse the means to escape to safety. In Parliament, I have been campaigning for a fully funding national network of domestic abuse refuges, a reversal of the LHA cap and automatic split payments for households receiving Universal Credit. I am pleased that this has forced the Government to commit to providing survivors and people trying to escape abuse with priority access to social housing in the Domestic Abuse Bill. However, far more support is desperately needed and I will continue to campaign for the reforms victims need.