Combatting knife crime is everyone’s business

 In Blog, CEO's blog

It’s ELBA’s 30th anniversary this year, and we have been looking back at some of the things that have changed in east London in three decades. The place itself has changed a great deal – with massive investment in the infrastructure, business districts, housing, and of course, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. But some things haven’t changed, with relative poverty levels remaining high – as many as 50% of children in some boroughs growing up in households below the poverty line.

But there have been some great achievements too. Undoubtedly, one of the most significant is the rise in educational attainment and progress. 30 years ago, education in London was a cause for concern – now it is at the top of the national league tables, including most east London boroughs. Ofsted ratings are high, attainment and progress is high, participation in tertiary and higher education likewise. This is testament to three decades of hard work by schools, teachers, local authorities, and of course, parents and students. It is definitely one of the features that ELBA will be highlighting more than any other as we move through our celebratory year.

However, all that celebration of the young people of east London is overshadowed by the rise in youth violence and knife crime. It’s another ghastly Monday morning, with reports of teenagers being fatally stabbed over the weekend. Figures show the number of children in England aged 16 and under being stabbed rose by 93% between 2016 and 2018. It’s an incredibly complex problem, but there is a clear link to adverse childhood experiences, and a concentration in areas of disadvantage. Think about the parents of teenagers in some areas, who must wonder about whether their sons and daughters will come home from school or playgrounds. Or think about their worry as they look to the future and wonder whether their children will get dragged into gangs or involvement in crime.

The Home Secretary says it has to stop, which is right, but there has to be a broad response. As the London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem”. Giving hope to young people, families and communities is everyone’s business, and ELBA has been working on coordinating a response from business.

Businesses are aware of the problem, and can see the human tragedy, but many are unsure what they can do. Some are already active. Here are five things businesses can do as part of a campaign of action from all parts of society:

  1. Get out into schools and show young people that there are alternatives, that everyone can aspire to a decent job and career. Open your doors to school groups and show them that ordinary people like them work behind the glass and steel exteriors. Show them relatable jobs and careers that would give them a decent living and fulfilment. Of course, if you are going to encourage young people to aspire, the very least you need to do is make sure they can get an interview for jobs in your business when they complete their education.
  2. Get young people into your organisation. All employers need to get familiar with having young people in the workplace pretty much all the time – school work experience, college students, undergraduates, internships. It needs to become the normal thing for a young people to be in mingling with your employees. At ELBA we have just finished three weeks of work experience for three young men training for vocational qualifications. I couldn’t say their punctuality was great, but by sticking with them and getting to know them, I think by the end of the three weeks they understood why time keeping is important, and they, and we, learned a lot of other stuff as well. We have a Year 10 pupil with us at the moment, and some recent graduates about to start as interns. Our own graduate placement programme – Eagles – is currently underway for the spring programme.
  3. Once a young person gets involved in gangs, crime, the criminal justice system and violence, it is often only highly specialised, grassroots organisations that can reach out to them, get them re-engaged, and when the right moment comes, help them turn away into a more positive path. Businesses can help those specialist organisations – by supporting them with business expertise to help run the governance and finance side of the organisation; by mentoring and training the leaders and trustees; and by offering employees to become trustees themselves. If you do fundraising for charitable organisations, why not select one of these organisations to raise money for? If you need help to make all this happen, organisations like ELBA exist to make it easy and impactful.
  4. Make sure your recruitment processes are genuinely open to people from all backgrounds. There is nothing more off-putting to young school pupils than to see older students working hard, getting good qualifications and still not getting into good jobs. It pulls the motivation away before they even get going. Not many employers deliberately exclude certain groups, but seemingly innocuous things like filtering according to which university people attended can unintentionally bring unconscious bias into the selection decision. There are great examples of firms who have junked any backward look at where applicants have come from, and only look at their future potential.
  5. If you can – give a young person a second chance – or third, fourth or fifth. Work with some of the specialist agencies who are helping turn young people around. When a young person has made a decision to try to get out of the cycle they are stuck in, they need all the help and encouragement they can get. Placements, work experience, training, jobs or support for self-employment are all things which businesses can offer. Plus, if you have members of staff who are willing – being a buddy or mentor can also be very powerful.


It’s a dreadful scourge on the lives of all of us, not just those who are most closely impacted. There are things every organisation can do and I hope more will chose to do so, because it’s everyone’s business.

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