There’s no doubt that the causes of recent spikes in knife crime are numerous and complicated.
The finger of blame is often pointed in the direction of the government, and this leads to conversations about police funding, youth services and the prevalence of poverty in British society.
These conversations need to happen, as all of these elements fit together to explain the rising numbers of young people involved in knife crime.
However, one element that I believe needs more attention is the prevalence of fatherless households among Britain’s young people.
Why have we often shied away from addressing this issue?
I believe it’s because we don’t want to appear critical of single mothers, who are often left to care for children on their own. I completely understand this position, as the women themselves are often not at fault.
However, to shy away from the issue altogether is to do an injustice to the young people being given a disservice.
Young people – particularly young men – benefit greatly from having a father present in their lives. The data is very clear on this – the Prison Reform Trust estimates that 76 percent of the men in prison in England and Wales had absent fathers in their youth. Figures are similarly stark over in the USA, where the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators estimates that children without fathers account for 80 percent of all prison inmates.
I don’t think this should be an issue to be disputed between the left and right of the political aisle. Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy has repeatedly spoken of this problem, pointing to the youth involved in 2011’s London riots. Lammy claims that of the nineteen youth arrested from his constituency, only two had fathers present in their lives.
So what can be done going forward?
First, it’s important to acknowledge this as a problem. Although we can all appreciate the tireless service of mothers who raise their children alone, we also need to emphasis the importance of a father figure. Why are there so many absentee fathers? What cultural elements are behind this? Are there socio-economic factors at work?
Secondly, we should lend our support to programs that help support children who may be missing a father in their lives. A recent programme launched in Essex schools called Lads Needs Dads saw male mentorship being provided to young boys without fathers – and hopefully this scheme will receive government funding and go nationwide.
Even the introduction of boxing clubs into schools can fill the void left by a absent father. Young boys benefit greatly from male role models and a boxing coach could fill that void.
As much as we like to lay platitudes upon single mothers who strive to do the best for their children, we must work to turn back the tide on the growing number of children deprived of a father.
3 million children in Britain live in single parent homes – and 90 percent of those children live without their father. Black children in Britain are more likely to go without – an Equality and Human Rights Commission report from 2011 found that 65% of African-Caribbean children were being raised without a father.
There’s a way to have this conversation without resorting to degrading comments about single mothers.
We need to look for solutions.