Our manifesto outlines “22 ways to build resilience and aspiration in people and communities” across five key areas. Download your copy.

Dismiss close

Criminal justice

The essential role that youth workers play in preventing crime

Young man listens to youth worker

In this week’s blog, Catch22’s Stella Tsantekidou unpicks youth crime in the UK. Inspired by a recent report Stella looks at the link between the cost-of-living crisis and the rise of serious crime, and explains why the role of youth workers and youth hubs is essential for tackling the root causes of crime.

Youth violence and crime have been making headlines for some years now, and most recently, the public imagination has been captured by images of ‘zombie knives’, reminiscent of video games and thriller films. We can all be excused for being distracted when seeing these graphic blades, but the root cause of knife crime is not the existence of knives, and therefore, current policy focussed on the banning and removing certain types of knives from our streets, can only be a small part of the solution to serious youth violence.

While it may be less eye-catching and headline-making, organizations that have worked with young people involved in crime know the ‘eat your vegetables’ solution: youth workers, youth hubs, real human support by and within a young person’s community. True solutions to crime are about providing safe spaces and positive role models and not about taking away weapons.

This assertion is backed not only by heartfelt testimonies from those on the ground but also by the latest research that shows what we at Catch22 have long suspected: there is a correlation between the cost-of-living crisis and the rise in serious crime. The recent speech by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and the subsequent discussions hopefully underscore a pivotal narrative shift that criminal justice organisations, like Catch22, have been advocating for years.

The Mayor’s recent commissioning of the London School of Economics (LSE) to investigate the link between the cost-of-living crisis and serious crime has illuminated a stark reality: a 10% increase in the cost of living is closely followed by an 8% rise in crime rates. This finding is a critical piece of the puzzle in understanding the complex nature of youth crime and the external pressures that drive individuals towards criminality. It is a clear indicator that economic instability and hardship are significant contributors to the surge in youth violence, challenging the efficacy of traditional punitive measures.

“We can’t arrest and incarcerate our way to solving crime”.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

It is positive to see politicians like the Mayor of London say that “we can’t arrest and incarcerate our way to solving crime”. As articulated by Mayor Khan, addressing the root causes of crime requires more than just police and court action; it demands a comprehensive approach that includes economic support, community engagement, and proactive youth work. Youth workers and hubs play a crucial role in this ecosystem, providing not only a safe haven for young people but also mentorship, guidance, and opportunities that divert them from the path of violence.

A young man’s testimony during the Mayor’s speech brought to life the transformative power of youth work. As a youth worker himself, he shared his journey of how, amidst a community plagued by violence, he found solace and direction through the positive influence of his mentors and the broader community network. His story is a testament to the potential of youth work to change lives and steer young people away from crime.

I recently listened in during a meeting between a BBC producer and Catch22 frontline youth workers discussing knife crime and the young people caught up in it. One of our youth workers was discussing the case of a young boy who was caught in various gang impacted activities. He ended his recounting by saying ‘he is a lovely kid, they all really are’’. “These are our kids, all of them. Unless you have been personally impacted, you think something doesn’t affect you, but it does. It is not just inner-city London. Nowadays, you go to Norwich and see kids running around with knives on the beach”.

“These are our kids, all of them. Unless you have been personally impacted, you think something doesn’t affect you, but it does. It is not just inner-city London. Nowadays, you go to Norwich and see kids running around with knives on the beach”.

Whenever I hear our youth workers describe their experiences, they make me realise at a more visceral level how important their work is amid the current social and economic turmoil. As families grapple with the cost-of-living crisis, the pressure on young people escalates, often pushing them towards criminal networks that exploit their vulnerability. For many of these kids, youth workers who know their situation intimately will be among the only adults they see who don’t approach them suspiciously or with ill intent. Youth workers step in to fill the void left by the lack of family support, offering a protective shield against the factors predisposing young individuals to crime. They embody the frontline defence against youth crime, engaging with young people on their terms, understanding their challenges, and guiding them towards positive life choices.

The urgency for government action is palpable. As the cost of living continues to soar, the link between economic hardship and crime becomes increasingly evident. This is why Labour’s plan to roll youth hubs across the country and invest in youth workers is extremely welcome and we were glad to have Labour’s Shadow Minister for Crime Reduction, Feryal Clark, visit Catch22’s ‘the Hive’ to see an example for what these would look like across the UK. During the visit we explained the importance of having a service that addresses multiple needs (to learn, to socialize, to play, to exercise, to be mentored etc.) and that is also open to everyone regardless of financial background so that service users are not stigmatized and create a sense of community.

Investing in youth hubs and workers is not merely a social expenditure; it’s a strategic move towards building safer, more resilient communities. These spaces offer more than just activities; they provide mentorship, education, and support systems that empower young people to envision a future beyond the confines of their immediate circumstances. They are essential in breaking the cycle of crime, offering an alternative narrative to those at risk of being ensnared by criminal networks.