Public health duty on violent crime in England needs more cash, UK bodies warn

A new legal duty on public health bodies in England to tackle serious violence, including knife crime, must be backed by cash if it is to be effective, organisations have warned. The public health duty, requiring bodies to share data, intelligence and knowledge, will be announced by the government this week, following the conclusion of an eight-week consultation. The obligation, a response to the knife crime crisis, contains a significant change from the plans announced in April, with the government abandoning a proposal for doctors, nurses and teachers to be held accountable if they failed to report children feared to have been caught up in a life of violence. Geoff Barton, chair of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was pleased the “particularly problematic” duty on individuals had been removed but added: “There needs to be acknowledgement that some of where we are now is because of austerity. Headteachers will be looking at this thinking this is another example of society thinking teachers can do everything.” He said teachers had already taken on a greater burden with respect to child protection because of cuts to other services and would need additional resources to do even more. John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, expressed similar concerns. “The inconvenient truth for some is that austerity has taken money out of the public sector, which equates to over £3m, has contributed in getting us into this situation,” he said. “You can’t legislate yourself out of this, but we do welcome the new ‘legal duty’ for public bodies to share intelligence to tackle serious crime.” Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing director for England, welcomed the removal of the obligation on individuals, which she said would have placed “too great a burden on nursing staff, who are already struggling with severe workforce shortages”. Javed Khan, CEO of Barnardo’s, called the duty “a step in the right direction” but said it was vital public bodies got the necessary resources to carry out their responsibilities. There were 22,041 knife and weapon offences formally dealt with by the criminal justice system in the year ending March 2019, the highest number for nearly a decade, according to Ministry of Justice figures. One in five of the offenders was aged between 10 and 17. The public health duty, similar to the approach successfully deployed in Scotland, will cover the police, local councils, local health bodies such as NHS Trusts, education representatives and youth offending services. Theresa May said: “Our new legal duty will ensure all agencies work together to share intelligence and identify warning signs, so we can intervene earlier and protect young people.” The government is also to amend the Crime and Disorder Act to ensure serious violence is an explicit priority for community safety partnerships, which include local police, fire and probation services, and that they have a strategy in place to tackle the issue. A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said tackling serious violence “requires schools, local government, the health service and policing to work together. Early intervention plays a vitally important role.”

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