London mayor Sadiq Khan on Wednesday (17) announced £2 million of new funding to support children and young people at risk of being exploited by criminal gangs.
With millions of Londoners being impacted by the cost-of-living crisis and low-income families in the capital being hit hardest as food and energy bills soar, the mayor is concerned that there is now a real risk of all these factors combining and contributing to the reduction of violent crime being reversed, a release from the mayor’s press office said.
As the soaring cost of living continues to impact the daily lives of Londoners, Sadiq is determined to offer young Londoners at risk of being exploited by criminal gangs a way out through his London Gang Exit Programme.
The programme, led by charity Safer London, provides specialist one-to-one specialist case work support and help for young Londoners aged 15 to 24. It includes specialist support to help young Londoners with employment, education, training, housing resettlement, substance misuse and emotional wellbeing as well as providing direct support to the families of those affected.
City Hall funding has already helped over 400 young people across all London boroughs leave or significantly reduce their involvement in criminal gangs.
Safer London workers work in every London borough and meet young Londoners in places where they can feel safe, which could be in a fast-food restaurant, in a park or on a bus, where they can build strong relationships and have the confidence to speak freely about their concerns.
Between 2016 (when Khan was first elected) and April 2022, 430 young people received long term support through the London Gang Exit programme. Of these, 83 per cent significantly reduced their involvement with criminal gangs or ended their involvement completely.
The latest evaluation of the effectiveness of the London Gang Exit Programme by the mayor’s office for policing and crime also found a significant reduction in the young people enrolled in the programme becoming victims of violence.
The mayor’s new funding will take his total investment in the programme to over £8.2million and will boost the number of support workers working to rescue the most vulnerable young Londoners from criminal gangs.
Gang-related violence still accounts for a substantial proportion of the most serious violence in London, with more than half of shootings and nearly one quarter of homicides believed to be linked to gangs.2
In 2018, the mayor set up the first Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in England and Wales to lead an approach to tackling violence that is rooted in prevention and early intervention. London’s VRU is funding intervention coaches in police custody, A&E departments and major trauma centres in the capital’s hospitals.
They all work to deliver teachable moments in a young person’s life to help them turn their back on violence. This includes measures to support families, funding to keep young people in education, investment in the vital role played by youth workers and mentors, and support and resources for communities.
Khan is determined to end the criminal exploitation of young Londoners by gangs and wider criminal networks as this is a known driver of violence affecting young people in our city. The Mayor’s office for policing and crime is focussed on investing in programmes to better target and respond to criminal exploitation of young people. Sadiq is also investing record sums in policing to boost the number of neighbourhood officers and help supress violence in local neighbourhoods this summer and beyond.
“I know that one-to-one support can make a huge difference in a young person’s life and mean the difference between them fulfilling their potential or being lured into the trap of violence and criminality,” Khan said.
“I’m proud that our London Gang Exit programme is making a real difference and has already helped hundreds of young people leave or significantly reduce their involvement in criminal gangs. That’s why I am investing even more in this programme to help tackle violence and support young Londoners at risk of exploitation as they turn their lives around.
“But gang violence still accounts for too much of the most serious violence in London and I am concerned about a potential increase in violence this summer as the cost of living crisis deepens and threatens to reverse the progress we have made in tackling violent crime. Violence, like poverty, is not inevitable and the Government must now do much more to show it shares my commitment to building a fairer, safer London for all.”
Sherry Peck, CEO, Safer London said, “It’s important to understand many young Londoners are growing up in incredibly toxic environments, which makes them more susceptible to violence and exploitation. We also know through our experience that young Londoners feel let down and judged, not only by professionals but by wider society.
“The Safer London team adopt a non-judgemental approach with every young Londoner they work with. When a child or a young person comes to Safer London, they are just that – a child or a young person. We don’t judge them, and we certainly never criminalise them.
“Our goal is to work alongside them and make sure they are safeguarded from harm, as well as provide them access to opportunities which will allow them to move onto to have positive futures. We do this by delivering our interventions directly in the community, taking our support to wherever the young Londoner needs it and where is safe to do so. Whether this be in an education setting, in a café or in the local park. By doing this we can build strong relationships which set the core foundation of our support and allow young Londoners to achieve success.
“This work and our achievements over the past six years would not have been possible without support from the Mayor of London. We are grateful we can continue to work in partnership and help more young Londoners to reach their full potential.”
Mya (name changed), a young Londoner supported by Safer London, said, “I don’t trust people easily, but as soon as I met my Safer London support worker, I knew that I could build a good connection with her. I found the support really helpful; she showed me that she cared a lot and she fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. She was the one person I could go to when I was feeling bad. The support I got made me stronger and more open with my feelings, it taught me how to look for healthier relationships and friendships and helped me to recognise the red flags to keep myself safe.
“Safer London also worked with my mum to help her understand what I had been through, which helped our relationship. My support worker also helped me to get support from Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service and chased them to make sure I had the right therapy. Safer London never gave up on me and stayed around until I got much better; the other support I had before didn’t do that. If I hadn’t met my support worker, I would definitely still be at my lowest.”
Anna (name changed), a young Londoner supported by Safer London, said, “When Safer London started working with me I was homeless and had experienced gang-related crime and exploitation. I worked one on one with someone who supported me in finding accommodation, reporting the crimes, and going through the process with police. It made a huge difference to feel listened to, not judged and have help when there was no one else offering it.
“The support from Safer London was so much more useful than the help I tried to get from the council and from my GP. I had complex PTSD and Safer London were able to refer me for counselling. The person I worked with was able to be an advocate for me. I think it made a big difference having a single point of contact who was consistently working with me and knew the history of things that had happened, rather than needing to repeatedly explain painful experiences. I’m really grateful for the support from Safer London and it has meant that my quality of life has improved significantly.”
Dan (name changed), a young Londoner supported by Safer London, said, “My support worker helped me grow as a person and never let me give up when times got hard. It was way better than any over support I have gotten. Now I know I’m capable of anything I put my mind too and that I’m stronger than I think.”
Symone, Safer London caseworker and service manager, said, “What we’ve learnt here at Safer London is that the lives of the young Londoners who access our services and support are complex, and they often present multiple needs. This often arises from the trauma they’ve experienced at various points in their lives, whether this be in early childhood or later in their teen years, or even in their early twenties.
“It is not easy opening up and sharing your most traumatic experiences with a professional. That is why it is so important to develop relationships built on trust and honesty. We include the young Londoners in every step of the support they receive from us; like they matter, rather than make decisions about their lives on their behalf.
“What’s amazing about this particular programme, is it gives young Londoners the access to not only specialist caseworkers such as myself, but to a whole range of specialist support. This holistic approach allows the young Londoners to get the help they need based on their unique circumstance, giving them a better chance at changing the direction of their lives.”
Luke, a Safer London caseworker, said: “The support we provide at Safer London is very important to the lives and wellbeing of young Londoners. My work is centred around children and young people whose lives have been severely affected by violence and exploitation. It’s my duty to work together with young Londoners going through tough times and helping them identify as well as accomplish their personal goals.
Recently I worked with a young man who was in difficult situation, he was in need of employment and emotional support. I collaborated with my team, and we manged to secure a job and create a safety plan, which will help reduce his susceptibility to violence and exploitation. It’s important for him and every young person I work with to realise they did the work to achieve their goals, I just guided them through this part of their journey.”