Blog Post

Young Londoners deserve to feel safe in our city, but are increasingly concerned about crime

Our Communications Officer Jeeshan Choudhury breaks down the data behind increasing concern about crime amongst young Londoners.

As London begins to move forward from the damage caused by COVID-19, much of the discussion surrounding the capital’s recovery has centred on how the city must once again deliver for its young people, one of the groups consistently hardest hit by the pandemic. Economic inactivity and unemployment have cast a shadow over the wellbeing of a generation now in need of urgent support. If London’s leaders are to alleviate this and successfully create a better place for young people to live, socialise and work in, they must also turn their attention to ensuring it is a safe city as it opens up again.

Our most recent opinion polling with Savanta in June revealed that young Londoners are increasingly concerned about crime in their neighbourhoods, with a strong consensus that it has risen locally over the last 12 months, compared to January. The breakdown of this data highlights concerns across the board as opposed to any particular facet of criminal activity, illustrating the breadth of issues in need of resolving to adequately respond to people’s fears.

Of the types of crimes 16-34 year olds were asked about, the largest proportion (49 per cent) believe that knife crime was on the rise. This compares to 43 per cent when the same question was asked in January. Although weapon-enabled crime actually decreased whilst lockdown rules were in place, this rise in concern might be explained by media coverage of several high-profile violent incidents in recent months. Heightened awareness of the issue may be the main driver of rising concern amongst an age group already more likely to be the victims of knife crime than older residents. 22 teenagers have been killed in the capital so far this year already, exceeding a total of 14 in 2020. This is a stark reminder that protecting young lives from violent crime remains as critical as it was prior to the pandemic, with no room for complacency about the fall in violence during lockdown being anything other than a temporary blip.

Given London’s reputation as a multicultural and tolerant global city, that 46 per cent of young respondents think hate crime increased over the past year is deeply worrying. Worse still is that contrary to the mixed situation with knife crime, official statistics align with perception here, as there has been a rise in most types of hate crime offenses over the last year. In a similar alarming fashion and despite social distancing restrictions, 44 per cent of young Londoners also believe there has been an increase in street harassment. This is primarily defined as sexual harassment in public areas, including misogynist and discriminatory name-calling or wolf-whistling. Official data on harassment in the capital is currently unavailable – partly because so many incidences of it occur without being reported or recorded. But a recent survey that went viral, disclosed that 86 per cent of women aged 16-24 experienced sexual harassment in UK public spaces, clearly demonstrating the magnitude of the issue at hand, and why it may be playing on so many minds at present.

Although the growing unease about all three categories of crime was unanimously expressed by every age group polled, it isn’t a sentiment felt equally amongst them all. In comparison with other age groups, 16-34 year olds are the most likely to feel hate crime is on the rise; more than 15 percentage points higher than the group least likely to express concern, over-55s (30 per cent). Likewise, young Londoners were the most concerned group about harassment and knife crime, both much more so than older Londoners. So it is evident that young Londoners are more concerned about crime, indicating the need for targeted action to help them feel safer.

Tackling both crime and the perception amongst young Londoners that it has worsened – even where this isn’t reflected within data – not only requires action from London’s authorities but will also need Londoners to trust them to address the problem in the first place. The recent announcement of an additional £5 million investment into the capital’s Violence Reduction Unit is the latest response to accusations by political opponents and some media outlets that Sadiq Khan’s tenure as Mayor of London has been marked by inaction against knife crime.

Ultimately, however, it will largely be down to the strategy for on-the-ground policing, rather than the Mayor’s powers, to restore confidence in young Londoners, meaning the Metropolitan Police must make sure their current approach cuts crime and does not foster further tension. The latter was apparent following the shocking murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, and the scenes at the Clapham Common vigil highlighted an abuse of power against the very communities meant to be protected by the police. The findings that racial disproportionality in the use of stop and search has grown in the 10 years since the London riots emphasises this issue further, but there are some grounds for optimism that overcoming it is possible. Our poll found young Londoners are still likelier to be happier with the police service in their local area than their older counterparts, perhaps a positive starting point if existing concerns are listened to and addressed going forward.

The past year has been difficult for everyone in London, but the extent to which young people have had to put their personal progress on hold, typically at a pivotal moment in their education or career, stands out as unique. It is therefore imperative that they feel their safety is assured so they can restart their lives and make up for lost time with confidence. Working to ease their perceived fears will be as important as confronting crime itself to successfully achieve this.

Jeeshan Choudhury is Communications Officer at Centre for London.