The pandemic making teenagers “more vulnerable” has led to a disproportionate increase in the killing of young people by knives, a charity said.
According to a report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people killed with a knife in England and Wales in 2021/22 was the highest on record for 76 years.
The ONS said the recent increase was driven by an 18% rise in the number of male victims, from 184 to 218, in the 12 months to March 2022.
The largest volume increase was for teenage boys aged 16 to 17, rising from 10 homicides to 24.
Patrick Green, chief executive of anti-knife crime charity the Ben Kinsella Trust which was set up in 2008 following the fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Ben in north London, cited the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic as a reason for knife crime rising faster amongst teenagers than any other age group.
“Gangs are particularly good at picking up on vulnerabilities, are quick to pick them up and indeed lure young people and exploit them in criminal acts.
“We think there could be a link there.”
Mr Green highlighted data from the ONS report that shows knives or sharp objects were used in 75% of teenage murders compared with just 40% in adults.
Through education workshops in London and Nottingham, Mr Green said the trust has seen a “notable difference” in interactions with young people after the pandemic.
He added: “Some feel less secure in their community spaces, more worried. We know that fear is a factor…in terms of carrying a knife. It’s one of the motivations. They feel safe carrying a knife and that alleviates the fear.”
Mr Green went on to say that solutions must tackle “a range of drivers for knife crime that reach deep into our society”.
“Ben was murdered 15 years ago. A generation of people have grown up in knife crime. We probably need to put in place the measures to eradicate knife crime for at least a generation. This isn’t a sticking plaster, we need a cure.”
He added: “The pervasiveness of knife crime has been underestimated for too long. We need a more robust public health response to tackle this problem or else we will continue to lose precious young lives to this heinous crime.”
Bruce Houlder, founder of Fighting Knife Crime London, called the disproportionate increase in male teenage knife victims “highly disturbing”.
He told PA that the “reasons” for increased deaths among young people are “well documented”.
“The long term failure of all governments in the last few decades to get to grips with social deprivation and the loss of hope among many young people needs to be heeded,” Mr Houlder said.
“As a nation we need to be ashamed that it has come to this.”
They said: “Homicides, knife and gun crime continue to fall in the capital – bucking the national trend.
“However, the Mayor is clear that one death is one too many and the level of violence in London remains too high.
“That’s why he continues to take action by investing in policing – expanding neighbourhood policing teams and investing record amounts in early prevention and support programmes for young Londoners through London’s Violence Reduction Unit as we work to build a safer London for everyone.”
It is understood that knife crime with injury has fallen 4% over the Mayoralty – between the 12 months leading up to May 2016 and the same period leading up to December 2022.
Over that stretch of time, knife crime with injury for under 25’s was also said to have fallen 20%.
The ONS analysed data held by the Home Office Homicide Index, which contains detailed information about each killing recorded by police in England and Wales.