Labour announces new ‘tough love’ youth programme to tackle knife crime, youth violence and address the crisis in young people’s mental health

In her speech at Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper will announce Young Futures, a new cross-government national programme aimed at giving Britain’s young people the best start in life, with a specific strand of activity targeted at those young people at most risk of being drawn into violent crime and delivering support for young people struggling with their mental health. 

This will be a key part of achieving Labour’s mission to halve knife crime and youth violence in a decade. 

The Shadow Home Secretary will set out how reforming services for young people will be the focus of a major cross-departmental initiative if Labour wins the next election. 

Its intention is to bring together support for young people in a radical new, co-ordinated way to better address the new serious challenges facing teenagers and their families, from the rise in knife crime, youth violence and county lines exploitation through to growing mental health challenges and the longer-term impact of social media and the pandemic on young lives. 

She will argue that, under the Tories, services supporting teenagers have become badly fragmented and neglected, with local partnerships stretched and struggling to coordinate activity. The Commission on Young Lives, Hidden in Plain Sight, described how: “the experience of parents [of at-risk children and teenagers] told a consistent tale of missed opportunities, unmet need, and a confused tangle of services. When there is contact with services, families say that they are too-often met with a conveyor belt of assessments, churn of professionals and early closure of cases.”

Cooper will point to a range of devastating statistics showing worsening outcomes for young people, including a record number of children and young people seeking mental health support from the NHS, analysis from the think tank Crest suggesting over 200,000 children are vulnerable to serious violence, a record number of children as victims of crime in 2021/2022, and last year seeing the highest number of people killed with a knife for over 70 years, with the biggest increase amongst young boys aged 16-17.

Labour’s new Young Futures programme will draw on up to £100 million a year, based on combining existing commitments to fund new youth mentors and mental health hubs in every community, youth workers in pupil referral units and A&E, and a programme of public sector reform to deliver:  

  • A targeted programme in every area to identify the young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime and build a package of support that responds to the challenges they are facing. This will be achieved through bringing together services at a local level to better coordinate delivery of preventative interventions around the young person, rooted in a strong evidence base.
  • Develop a national network of Young Futures hubs to bring local services together, deliver support for teenagers at risk of being drawn into crime or facing mental health challenges and, where appropriate, deliver universal youth provision.
  • Youth workers in A&E units, custody centres, pupil referral units and communities to target young people who are starting to be drawn into violence.
  • Ensure existing enforcement measures are effectively utilised, including family interventions, the use of curfews, enforcement of penalties, drug and alcohol interventions, community work, and stronger action against the criminal gangs that are drawing young people into crime. 

The programme will be a major reform to focus on prevention rather than just sticking plaster policies, and will mean government departments, schools and local services working together so that at local level services operate around young people and their families rather than in separate silos. Local partnerships will draw together mainstream services with the work of Violence Reduction Units and voluntary sector organisations and will help deliver Labour’s mission to halve knife crime in the country within the next ten years. 

The Young Futures Programme will be developed with local government leaders, experts, and young people themselves, and local partnerships will be measured against a national outcomes framework to allow for local innovation in delivery. The initial focus of the programme will be knife crime but once the programme is demonstrating results Labour will look to expand the remit beyond youth violence and into other mission objectives such as educational attainment. 

The programme also aims to increase access to universal provision of youth services to help all young people thrive and get ready for work and life. This element of the programme will initially be boosted by Labour’s plan for new youth hubs and staff, but in time could be supported by the outcomes of a review in government of funding for support for young people to ensure it is effective and evidence based.  

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, will say:

“Young people have been totally let down by this Tory Government, who have failed to recognise the growing vulnerability of many teenagers – be it because of the rise of county lines gangs, impact of damaging content on social media or the pandemic.

“Whether it’s addressing knife crime, violence in teenage relationships, or the record number of young people seeking mental health support, this floundering government have never sought to grip the issue and support teenagers and families at a tough time in their lives. 

“We need urgent interventions to stop young people getting drawn into crime or exploitation in the first place. For too long, teenagers have been pushed from pillar to post between local authorities, mental health services, the police and youth offending teams. That’s why we are setting up a cross-Government ‘tough love’ initiative, with new youth hubs and proper local plans to identify those most at risk and help them access the support they need.  

“And for those who repeatedly cause trouble in their community or are found carrying knives, there also need to be stronger interventions and clear consequences to stop their behaviour escalating and to keep other young people safe.  

“A Labour Government will give young people their future back.”