Ending Gang and Youth Violence conference

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.


It is a pleasure to be here today - at a conference which I am pleased has ranged far wider than just the Government perspective on ending gang and youth violence.

From grassroots charities… to community leaders… and innovative police initiatives…

…  it has long been clear to me that making a real difference to gang-impacted areas requires an expertise that lies beyond Whitehall.

At the Centre for Social Justice, an organisation I set up in 2004, our report ‘Dying to Belong’ showed how far successive government interventions had failed - allowing gangs to become entrenched in some of our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The riots

Even before the recession, with poor social mobility and income inequality the worst for a generation…

… benefit dependency, dysfunctional families, debt, crime, and drugs became the norm for whole communities.

Whilst there was some awareness of these high and rising levels of social breakdown, the majority of people remained unaware of the true nature of life on our poorest estates.

Occasionally a terrible incident would make it onto the front pages…

… but because they were small in number, people could turn away from the reality.

Even politicians considered gangs a second order issue.

Yet by failing to deal with it, we were storing up trouble further down the line.

In August 2011, the inner city came to call - and the violence we saw on our streets provided a moment of clarity for all of us.

The riots were a wake-up call, revealing all too vividly the deeper problems that we as a society had chosen to ignore.

A cause and a symptom

In the aftermath, the Prime Minister rightly called for a report into Britain’s street gangs.

The riots showed that in many inner city areas, gangs dominate - in London, at least one in five of those convicted was known to be part of a gang.

Even where they are small in number, gangs can have a disproportionately negative impact on their local area - bringing with them crime, drug abuse and pulling others around them into their destructive cycle.

But gangs are not just a cause of social breakdown - they are also an important symptom.

The majority of rioters were under 24.

Most of these young people had poor academic records.

Nine out of ten were known to the police and a third had been in prison.

70% of those arrested came from the 30% most deprived areas.

So whilst we must be tough on the instigators of violence, we cannot simply arrest our way out of the problem.

Making a real difference to Britain’s gang culture requires us to tackle the problem at its source…

… addressing the educational and social failures, which all too often mean children from broken homes and the back of the classroom falling into the clutches of gangs.

A new approach **

This principle underpinned the Government’s Ending Gang and Youth Violence Report, published in November last year - which established a new cross-Government approach.

Focussed on the 29 local areas facing the most challenging situations…

… the report made clear that alongside intensive police action and enforcement to end violence and bring perpetrators to justice…

… we must match this with an offer of support to exit gang life, and an equally intensive prevention strategy.

The key here is early intervention: as well as offering a way out, it is vital to do all we can to stop people from joining gangs in the first place.

Putting the structures in place

A year after embarking on this new strategy, it is right that we consider our progress.

That is why today, the Government is publishing a paper outlining what has been achieved in the last 12 months.

To start, what this shows is that although we’re not completely there yet…

…. we are making progress in putting the right structures in place to end gang and youth violence.

A multi-agency approach

Importantly, instead of a disconnected, siloed approach…

… with different Departments and agencies all focussing on their own narrow brief, but no one seeing the whole picture…

… we are now pushing ahead with a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach.

This is led by a frontline team delivering peer support to each gang-impacted area - drawing together the expertise of around 70 independent advisers, from health and education, to employment and welfare, safeguarding and community engagement.

Using a standard definition, the Association of Chief Police Officers has now mapped gangs across the country.

And with my Department driving improvements in data and knowledge sharing, different organisations are now working together to better identify and address gang-related issues.

There is still more to do to strengthen local partnerships - and the recently elected police and crime commissioners will need to play a central role…

… joining up with community leaders and voluntary organisations to develop effective local solutions.

To do this, they will need a robust evidence base - and over the next year, we will be doing more to develop and share best practice around what works.

Forging a positive future

What we already know is that the greatest gains stand to be made when policies are focussed on preventing gang and youth violence, rather than waiting to pick up the pieces.

Take the fact that boys assessed by medical practitioners at the age of 3 as being ‘at risk’ had two and a half times as many criminal convictions by age 21, as those deemed not to be at risk.

So whether it be investing £30 million in relationship support, ensuring children have stable families and positive role models in their early years…

… funding over 360,000 apprentices last year alone and raising the participation age, to keep pupils engaged in structured education and off the streets…

… across Government we are working hard to close off the pathways that lead young people to gang life in the first place.

To take just one example, consider the impact of our £30 million Innovation Fund - which has now backed 10 social impact bonds…

… supporting around 17,000 of our most vulnerable young people over a 3 year period.

With a remit that extends to those aged 14 and 15, the Fund enables providers to intervene even earlier in a young person’s life…

… and in the second tranche of projects launched last month, two are specifically focused on supporting those at risk of involvement in gangs…

… including both a prevention programme focused on reducing knife crime, and workshops which expose the reality of prison and the impact it has on young people’s prospects.

These are cutting edge solutions - but by giving providers the opportunity to develop a proof of concept, proven programmes can be rolled out locally or nationally.

Overall, current projects are expected to improve the educational and employment outcomes for up to 28,000 young people - helping them forge a positive future, away from the negative influences of gang membership.

Full and sustainable rehabilitation

This last point is crucial.

All our interventions must translate into meaningful outcomes - transforming the lives of people most in need and entrenched in disadvantage.

As I have said, early intervention is one side of the coin, improving the life chances of would-be gang members.

The other is rehabilitation - prioritising full and sustainable recovery and providing a second chance for those whose lives do go off track.

The rioters who were convicted received an average sentence of just under 17 months - almost exactly the length of time that has now passed since the riots themselves.

As individuals are released from prison, the One Year On report outlines the crucial steps we have taken to rehabilitate ex-offenders into the community - rather than letting them fall back into a life of gangs and crime.

Evidence shows that being in employment is vital, reducing the risk of re-offending by between a third and a half.

That is why in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, my Department is setting offenders on a journey back to work before they leave prison.

Claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance, which has a requirement to actively seek work at its heart, can now start to be processed prior to release…

… and we have introduced a new provision in the Work Programme so that prison leavers can receive tailored support to get them work-ready, find a job and remain there for a sustained period - from the first day they are out.

What’s more, through piloting a new approach to joint commissioning in 2 areas across England and Wales, we are paying providers for the results they achieve both in terms of employment outcomes and reducing re-offending.

In all this, because we are paying by results, we will only pay for what works - ensuing that every pound spent is a pound that leads to life change.

Get someone free of violence… out of gang life… and into work…

…and you help them find a foothold in society again - and stay there.

Long-term commitment

This is just a snapshot of some of the work now underway to tackle gangs and youth violence.

One year on, I believe we are on the right path.

Now we must consolidate that progress, working collaboratively across and beyond Government to achieve more.

For whilst this summer saw a welcome contrast to that of 2011…

… the scenes of Jubilee street parties and Olympic celebrations should not eclipse the continuing severity and complexity of the problem we still face.

A lasting legacy will not be achieved through a knee-jerk response to the riots.

Rather, if we are to transform the lives of our most disadvantaged young people, it will require a long-term commitment.


As well as progress to date, the One Year On report outlines our next steps -signalling that further action is needed to drive support on the ground and momentum across Government.

It is my mission to keep gang and youth violence at the top of the Coalition’s agenda, over the next year and beyond.

Today we reiterate our commitment to end gang and youth violence.

We owe it to young people in communities across the country not to let our gaze drop…

… or let them fall back into forgotten shadows…

… but to deliver on that promise and break the destructive cycle of gang life that can ruin so many lives.