A masked youth walks up to the police line in Goulton Road with a Molotov cocktail on August 8, 2011 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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To stop youth crime before it starts, we need to shift power to communities

Instead of assuming that politicians have the answers, we should engage with the most affected areas and put local people in charge.

An innocent bystander in London was recently shot dead after being mistaken for a member of a rival gang. The attacker casually drew a gun from his pocket and shot the victim through a shop window. Another senseless attack led to the serious injury of a young boy in prison. Two inmates distracted prison officers while a group of other boys viciously set upon a young man sitting alone at a table.

If we want to stop this kind of violence, we need to understand what causes it in the first place. Young men who carry out acts of serious violence are often experiencing deep-rooted problems. Research shows that the majority of youths in custody are themselves victims of abuse. The figures are staggering: 71% of young offenders have been involved with or were in the care of social services; one in four boys report suffering violence at home; one in 20 report having been sexually abused; and a third have a recognised mental health disorder. The struggle many of these children have experienced so early in their short lives is a key factor in their violent criminal behaviour.

That does not mean that young people who commit crime are not personally responsible for their actions. The public have a right to be protected and to know that those who do wrong will face the consequences of the law. But it’s better to prevent violence in the first place than to deal with the consequences of it afterwards.

This government inherited a legacy of falling youth crime thanks to the last Labour government’s investment in reforms like the Youth Justice Board and Sure Start, which only started paying dividends towards the end of the 2000s. Yet it would be foolish to take that progress for granted. Youth reoffending rates remain unacceptably high, with 7 out of 10 young offenders reoffending within 12 months of leaving custody.

We now know a lot more about the circumstances and behaviours that lead to offending. For example, three quarters of young offenders have an absent father, and 84 per cent have been excluded from school. Being the younger sibling of a gang member is also a reliable predictor of youth violence.  Most young people become members of gangs not out of a desire to commit violence but as a result of coercion, peer pressure, the need for protection or simply to fit in. 

Young people starting life in circumstances like these do not share the hope of a good job, a decent home to live in, or a stable family to belong to that the vast majority of young people in our country can expect. This absence of positive opportunities can lead some young people into criminality. Youngsters moving out of custody into accommodation and a placement in education, training or employment are less likely to reoffend. If you put a young offender back into the unchanged circumstances they came from they are likely to offend again. If you change those circumstances, they may not. That’s why it’s so important to involve the whole community that is affected by violent youth crime in tackling its root causes. 

On the Myatts Field Estate in Brixton, a group of parents and ex-offenders came together to do something about extremely high levels of youth gang violence there. They all knew teenagers who had been victims or perpetrators of knife and gun attacks. They set up a range of activities to support their own young people, including a football league, cookery, and taking young people on visits to open their eyes to the opportunities around them. Over three years, with almost no public funding, they got 80 young people out of gangs. The community showed how their own insights and their ability to reach the young people involved could help to tackle the problem. Instead of leaving communities like this to struggle alone, we need to give them access to public resources so they can do even more. 

Hackney’s Integrated Gangs Unit brings communities and professionals together to find interventions that work.  Lambeth’s new youth services trust, the Young Lambeth Co-operative, gives communities access to the professionals and public resources they need to make a real difference.  Owned by the community, and with young people making up half the governing board, the trust works with individual neighbourhoods and tailors support in line with what each community wants, opening the door to creativity and innovation. 

The key to stopping violent crime before it happens is to engage the communities that are affected by it, including the young offenders, and get them to work alongside the professionals to steer young offenders’ lives back on track. This is what Ed Miliband was talking about when he called for a people-power revolution in our public services by giving people a bigger say in the decisions that affect them.  

We need a different approach to solve complex social problems like youth violence. Instead of assuming that politicians have the answers or that we can implement the same blanket approach everywhere, we need to shift power into the most affected communities and put local people in charge. 

Dan Jarvis MP is the shadow minister for youth justice, Steve Reed MP is the shadow minister for home affairs

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Theresa May's Article 50 letter fires the Brexit starting gun

But as well as handing over a letter, Theresa May hands over control of the process. 

So the starting gun will be fired, and the Brexit process will begin. The delivery of the letter from Theresa May to Donald Tusk is a highly symbolic moment. It is also, crucially, the moment when the Prime Minister loses control of the process.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Brexit process to date has been the remarkable degree of control exercised over it by Downing Street. Brexit means Brexit, declared the Prime Minister, and since that day it has been her who has defined what precisely it does mean. After a quarter century of bitter division over Europe, culminating in a referendum where the Parliamentary party was split down the middle, she has managed to unite the overwhelming majority of the Conservative party for a “hard Brexit” that very few claimed to support a year ago.  As an impotent opposition and ineffective Tory opponents watched on, she has made it clear from the first that Britain will leave the single market and, almost certainly, the customs union. Rumours from Whitehall suggest that, whatever the concerns or doubts of line departments, these have been ignored or over-ruled.

Now, however, the Prime Minister has lost control of the process. Inevitably, given the relative strength of the parties’ negotiating positions, both the agenda and outcome of the talks will be determined largely by our European partners. It is of course true that they have an interest in preserving trade with us, as do we with them; nor do they have any interest, either economic or political, in “punishing” us for the sake of it. That being said, our interests and theirs are far from aligned. They have other priorities. Not allowing cherry picking among EU rules is one. Ensuring Britain pays its fair share is another.

And, while it is in neither side’s interest for the talks to collapse, we have considerably more to lose. May’s claim that “no deal is better than a bad deal” may play well with the Daily Express, but is has not gone down well with UK business. As the economics professor Jonathan Portes sets out here, the consequences of “no deal” would go far beyond the mere imposition of tariffs; the economic impacts would be significant for other EU countries, and very  severe indeed for the UK.  There are increasing signs that ministers are, belatedly, appreciating the risks, and are anxious to avoid such an outcome.

So both sides want a deal – and the UK, at least, needs one. But several hurdles stand in the way. In the first place, there is the vexed question of money. Britain, as our partners are concerned, has outstanding liabilities that must be paid. The British government may accept some of these, but is sure to quibble about the sums. Discussions of money are never easy in the EU, and the task of figuring out what a net contributor to the budget might owe at a time when discussions over the new 5 year funding programme are about to start will be no exception.  Nevertheless, if it were simply left to the civil servants, no doubt an acceptable compromise would be reached. The bigger  issue  is whether Mrs May  is prepared to take on some of her own backbenchers – and, more importantly, sections of the UK press – to sell a deal that will inevitably mean that the UK writes a sizeable cheque.

Second, there is the question of how to ensure the "frictionless" trade of which the Prime Minister has spoken. This makes eminent sense on one level – why make trade more difficult with the partner that buys 44 per cent of our exports? On another, though, it is hard to see how she can deliver.

I for one simply lack the imagination to see how we can be sufficiently out of the customs union to allow us to sign our own trade deals, while sufficiently in it to avoid customs checks and tariffs. For another, it is difficult to foresee conditions under which the EU would allow us to enjoy any of the benefits of the single market – whereby states accept each other’s rules and standards – without the oversight provided by the European Court of Justice.

And finally, since all parties now seem to accept that the prospects of concluding an “ambitious and comprensive” trade deal by March 2019 are vanishingly, there is the question of what happens then. The government has talked about an “implementation phase”; but how do you have an “implementation phase” when you do not know exactly what you are trying to implement?

It could just be me. I may simply not have fathomed the subtle devices that might allow these circles to be squared. But it does seem clear to me that doing so would be far from straightforward.

And then, of course, whatever is negotiated needs to be approved. Forget for a moment the continent, where there has probably never been a worse time to try to get a free trade deal approved by 27 European parliaments. The Prime Minister will almost certainly have parliamentary problems here in the UK.

The Labour party has adopted a position whereby they will vote against any deal that does not provide the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the single market and customs union,” to quote Keir Starmer. If the other member states are to be believed, the full benefits of membership are, and will be, only available to members, so this is will simply not be the case.

Labour, then, will probably end up voting against the bill. What Tories opposed to either Brexit or to leaving the single market might then do is anyone’s guess. It may be that, by autumn of 2018, they feel sufficiently empowered  - either because of a shift in public opinion, or because of indications of falling economic confidence, or, conceivably, because of declining faith in the Prime Minster – to make common cause with the opposition.

Under such circumstances, May might face the real possibility of defeat in Parliament. Which in turn poses the question as to why she would she risk putting a deal that might be rejected to a vote?

It seems to me that she would have very little incentive to do so. If she cannot get the kind of deal that seems, on the surface, impossible to get anyway, surely better, from her point of view to simply walk away? Blaming the Europeans for failure would be all to easy. And holding a snap election on a patriotic ticket and opposed by the current Labour party would guarantee a healthy majority.

Two years is a long time in politics. And much that is unexpected will doubtless transpire during the negotiations to come. Do not, however, discount the possibility that it might all go wrong. 

Anand Menon is director of The UK in a Changing Europe and professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King's College London.