30 January 2024

Reasons Why Knife Crime Is Increasing In The UK

Knife crime has become a big issue in the United Kingdom, with a concerning rise in incidents involving the criminal use of knives over recent years. Despite efforts to address the issue, the problem persists – prompting a closer examination of the underlying factors contributing to its increase. 

It has led to a culture of fear in some communities, creating “no go” areas throughout the country. Young males are most likely to be the perpetrators of knife crime, but they are also more likely to be the victims too. Parents, teachers and community leaders are at a loss as to how to prevent this, with many pointing the finger at a wide range of factors. 

In this article, we explore some of the factors that are driving this increase.

Is knife crime on the rise in the UK?

Yes, there is no doubt that knife crime is on the rise in the UK. Statistics show that knife crime increased by 90% between 2012/13 and 2019/20 in England and Wales. It slowed slightly during COVID-19 social distancing measures, but is now 75% higher than it was in 2012/13.

There are five possible reasons that this could be happening on our streets, and it could be that all of these factors are contributing to the issue.

Fewer police officers on the streets

1. Fewer police officers on the streets

A reduction in police officers in real terms means there are fewer officers patrolling the streets. This leads to an emboldening of criminals who see a lack of police presence as an invitation to commit crimes without consequences. It also makes it more likely that those carrying knives are less likely to be caught before they can commit a crime.

While the current government might be proud of their new police recruitment statistics, this isn’t nearly enough to cover the number of officers retiring or leaving the force, so we are left with a shortfall in police numbers. When there is a shortage of police, the first thing to go is patrols.

2. Lack of community engagement

Good policing relies on engagement with the community which starts by building relationships with individuals. However, police cuts and fewer patrols means that a lot of people don’t get to know their local police officers. This can lead to a disconnect between the police and the communities they are there to serve. 

If communities are engaged with their local police force, they are more likely to report suspicious behaviour as they will see the police as a supportive presence. When local residents won’t share information with the police, it makes it more difficult to identify at-risk individuals who might turn to knife crime. 

Increased economic disparity

3. Increased economic disparity

Economic inequality and social deprivation play a significant role in the prevalence of knife crime. Disadvantaged communities with reduced access to education, employment opportunities and support services are more vulnerable to crime and violence.

Economic hardship can fuel feelings of frustration, hopelessness and desperation, leading some individuals to turn to crime, including knife-related offences, as a means of survival or to exert control over their environment. Knife crime may be a way for individuals to correct what they see as an injustice that they are otherwise powerless to address. 

4. The social media effect

Social media has become a powerful tool for communication and influence, but it also has a darker side when it comes to knife crime. Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook are often used by gangs to taunt rivals, escalate conflicts and glorify violence. 

The anonymity and immediacy of social media makes it easier for individuals to engage in criminal activity, including the planning and coordination of attacks involving knives. Violence at football events (or travelling to or from them) are a good example of how this happens in the public domain.

Moreover, the widespread dissemination of violent content online can desensitise young people to the consequences of knife crime and contribute to a culture of normalisation. In short, social media gives young people a sense of belonging, but this might not be the best place for them to flourish.

County lines drug gangs

5. County lines drug gangs

County lines drug trafficking refers to the practice of urban gangs exploiting vulnerable individuals to distribute drugs into rural or coastal areas. This phenomenon has contributed significantly to the proliferation of knife crime across the UK. 

Gangs use coercion, intimidation and violence to recruit young people as drug runners or to protect and enforce their territory, leading to an increase in knife-related incidents as conflicts arise between rival groups competing for control of lucrative drug markets. 

In some cases, gangs use knife crime as a form of initiation, and encourage young people who want to join their ranks to engage in criminal behaviour. Since this is happening in rural areas where there isn’t much for young people to do, criminal gangs find it easy to exploit a sense of boredom, restlessness and lack of direction.

Closing thoughts

The increase in knife crime in the UK is a complex issue that is being driven by a combination of socio-economic factors, systemic challenges and evolving criminal dynamics. Addressing this problem requires a multifaceted approach that involves not only law enforcement efforts, but also investments in community engagement, social support programme, and initiatives to tackle root causes such as poverty, lack of opportunity and unfair inequality.