LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May held a special meeting on tackling Britain’s soaring knife-crime rate on Monday after the government announced new plans that could make teachers and health workers responsible for tackling violent behaviour.
The meeting with experts in youth violence in May’s Downing Street office comes after a spate of high-profile deaths sparked a debate in Britain over whether a nationwide decline in the number of police officers is behind a rise in stabbings.
Over the weekend, four people were stabbed in what police said were unprovoked attacks in London. At least 48 people in Britain have been stabbed to death since the start of the year.
The new proposals could see teachers, nurses and police officers held to account if they fail to spot warning signs of violent crime among young people.
“In recent months we’ve seen appalling number of young lives cut short or devastated by serious violence crime including a number of horrifying incidents this weekend,” May said.
“In many cases the perpetrators of these crimes are as young as their victims and this is something that has to be of deep concern to us all.”
There were 285 fatal stabbings in England and Wales in 2018, the highest level since records began more than 70 years ago, officials statistics showed last month.
Police say the surge in knife crime in a country where guns are hard to obtain has been driven by several factors, including rivalries between drug gangs, cuts to youth services and provocations on social media.
However, the government’s new approach faced opposition from some union officials and lawmakers.
“Neither the blame for or the solution to violent crime can be laid at the door of schools or front-line hospital staff,” said Mary Bousted, who works at the National Education Union.
“Schools already have strong safeguarding practices in place and staff will be alerted to any issues of concern. The problem is what happens after issues of concern have been identified.”
The Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg questioned the value of the summit. “I’ve never been convinced that summits solve anything very much, what you need is action,” he said on LBC radio.
Reporting by Rachel Cordery; editing by Michael Holden