Why is violent crime on the rise – and who is most at risk?

Knife and gun crime has surged in England and Wales, but the causes and solutions are unclear

Reports of violence, stabbings and murders have hit the headlines in recent months, with daily occurrences in London. But how widespread is violent crime, why is it growing and who are the victims?

The vast majority of people will not be a victim of violent crime. In England and Wales, four in five people did not experience crime in 2017 and overall crime has been steadily decreasing since 1995.

Although people are experiencing less crime, high-harm incidents, including offences involving knives and firearms, are on the rise. In 2017 there was a 22% increase in knife crime and an 11% rise in gun crime, according to offences recorded by the police. These crimes don’t occur very often, but they do attract a lot of media attention.

Overall crime has continued to decrease in the past decade

“These types of offences are typically disproportionately concentrated in London and other metropolitan areas,” says Mark Bangs, deputy head of crime statistics at the Office for National Statistics. “While they are very serious crimes in the context of the overall population, they are very rare.”

The rise in crimes involving knives can also be seen in hospitals. In the five years to March 2017, the number of admissions for stab wounds increased by 13% in England and 17% in London.

Last year, 39 children and teenagers were killed by knives in the UK and more than half of those were in the capital. Reports indicate there were more than 50 homicides in London in the first 100 days of 2018.

Most police forces report steep increases in knife crime since 2012

While the figures suggest serious violence is on the rise, there is no consensus about the causes or solutions. The latest Home Office policy targeting violent crime points to changes in the nature of drug sales and use, highlighting crack cocaine, social media and music glamorising violence as among the issues fuelling the problem.

However, policy experts and criminologists put the increase down to a combination of complex factors, and say longer-term public health-style approaches may be key to reducing serious violence.

Simon Harding, associate professor in criminology at the University of West London, says the rise is partly because of cuts to youth services and police community support officers (PCSOs).

PCSO jobs have been cut across the country and particularly in London

One in four PCSO jobs have been cut in the past decade in England and Wales. However, in London that trend has accelerated: three in five PCSO positions no longer exist in the capital.

“Cuts to youth services mean young people no longer have premises on their immediate doorstep that they can go to, and between the reductions in policing and community safety, there is not a lot of partnership work or community engagement taking place,” Harding says.

According to research published by the Green party, 88 youth centres in London have had their borough funding cut or were closed between 2011 and 2017. Figures reported to the Department for Education by local authorities also show steep cuts to the provision of universal and targeted children’s services.


Although most people will never experience serious violent crime, figures indicate young black men are disproportionately the victims of knife crime, particularly in London.

“I think this has been one of the problems with policy: we say our risk of being a victim of violence is much lower, but who are ‘we’ and who are we not including in that category?” says Richard Garside, director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

“There are particular age groups and localities where being young and male – and particularly being young, male and black in some parts of London and other major cities – is potentially lethal in and of itself. They are at much higher risk of being a victim of a violent assault than the general population.”

Garside is urging a rethink of how we respond to violence in society, possibly with a longer-term public health-style approach.

“What we’re seeing here is the product of a whole set of other social forces that are playing out in, at times, really lethal ways in some communities up and down the country. There’s a reason why this is a problem in Tottenham, Wood Green, and it’s not a problem in Richmond and South Kensington,” Garside says.

“If you adopt a whole-population approach then everyone benefits, including those who are most at risk of being victims of knife violence.”


Caelainn Barr, Niko Kommenda, Antonio Voce and Connor Ibbetson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
We are turning tide against violent crime in London, says Met chief
Cressida Dick says knife and gun crime is falling after extra officers were drafted into taskforce

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

04, Dec, 2018 @1:11 PM

Article image
Police cuts ‘likely contributed’ to rise in violent crime, leaked report reveals
Leaked Home Office documents undermine Amber Rudd’s claim that police cuts were not to blame for increase in violent offending

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

08, Apr, 2018 @11:00 PM

Article image
Is rise in violent crime due to cuts to neighbourhood policing?
Broad and complex factors point to spike in violence in England and Wales, not just falling officer numbers

Jamie Grierson

09, Apr, 2018 @4:26 PM

Article image
Violent crime rising in England and Wales, police figures show
Data reveals ‘small but genuine’ rise in gun and knife offences but overall increase reflects changes in recording practices

Alan Travis Home affairs editor

27, Apr, 2017 @10:01 AM

Article image
Surge in knife and gun crime in England and Wales
Nearly 40,000 offences involve knife or sharp instrument, and homicides rise 15% to 688

Matthew Weaver

26, Apr, 2018 @9:22 AM

Article image
Sadiq Khan holds City Hall summit on how to tackle violent crime
London mayor urged cross-party focus after criticism that police funding cuts have led to surge

Pippa Crerar and Damien Gayle

10, Apr, 2018 @4:46 PM

Article image
Violent crime in England and Wales is up 24%, police figures show
Murder rate rises 20%, knife crime 9% and gun crime 7% according to police recorded crime figures

Alan Travis Home affairs editor

20, Oct, 2016 @9:26 AM

Article image
Rise in recorded crime is accelerating in England and Wales
Police figures show offences up 14% in a year, with knife and gun crime rising even more steeply

Alan Travis Home affairs editor

25, Jan, 2018 @5:28 PM

Article image
Met police chief hails fall in violent crime in London
Cressida Dick says more officers and rise in stop and search had reduced stabbings and murders

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

02, May, 2019 @2:55 PM

Article image
Most London knife crime no longer gang-related, police say
Three-quarters of knife injuries among the young are not linked to gangs as knives are carried for protection and status, Met says

Nadia Khomami

13, Oct, 2016 @2:55 PM