Editor’s comment: Councils shouldn’t have to choose between fighting knife crime and climate change
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I once received an email from a reader complaining that their local council was spending money on cycle infrastructure at a time when two people had very recently been murdered, and asking whether that cash shouldn’t have gone into addressing violence and knife crime instead.
Taking a step back, I can understand where he was coming from: surely a problem that is killing people right now trumps everything else?
And violent crime really is killing people right now. Few things hammer that home more explicitly than a list of people's names: it's the reason we named and pictured every one of Islington's knife victims during the 10 years since Ben Kinsella's murder last summer. It's the reason there is a large handwritten list on the wall in front of my desk. Knife crime isn't some abstract funding recipient: it is grieving families, empty seats at school, young people shown again and again what their friends' lives are worth.
So why would town halls spend money on anything else?
Because violent crime isn't the only crisis with a body count. It isn't a case of solving the most desperate problem by transferring cash from one cause to another: knife crime, air pollution, housing and the climate catastrophe are all urgent and hopelessly ill-addressed by central government and (more crucially) by our wider economic priorities as a society. No wallchart is big enough to take the list of people they have killed.
The fight against knife crime needs well funded youth services, police who earn and retain the public's trust, lower availability of weapons, equality of opportunity, safe and stable housing, and councils have some, limited, control over those things. But neither violence nor climate change is going to go away with a bit of tinkering on a budget sheet. Our society is fundamentally founded on some of the very inequalities that are creating these problems. That is what we must address.