Sports should be harnessed to help tackle knife crime and gang violence, according to a report by the DCMS Select Committee.
In its Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport
report, published this week, the cross-party group of MPs said that sporting activities were being "overlooked" – and that custodial sentences do not necessarily rehabilitate young offenders.
The report is the result of an inquiry launched in January 2018, which looked at the positive social impact participation in sport and cultural activities can have – especially in tackling youth crime.
Home Office figures show that the UK is currently in the midst of a knife crime "epidemic", with nearly 300 people falling victim of knife-related homicides in the past 12 months. One in four of the victims of knife-related murders are men aged between 18 and 24 – a disproportionate figure.
According to the report, there are concerns that the statistics demonstrate not just increased levels of crime, but "broader social failings at a community level", in addition to the high likelihood of convicts re-offending after their release from prison.
The report suggests that a new approach should be adopted to tackle knife crime – one which involves communities and, ideally, the involvement of sports or cultural activities.
"Young people need to feel like they are understood and that they have a sense of security in their relationships with others," the report states.
"It is necessary that young people, who may otherwise be susceptible to gang membership, know that there is an alternative community that is available and willing to offer them comprehensive support."
"Community partnerships to create a sense of belonging for young people, through sports and other cultural activities.
"Previous studies have also demonstrated the power of sport and culture to help provide that alternative community for young people who might otherwise be vulnerable to becoming involved in gang violence and criminality, or unable to break their cycle of re-offending following prior convictions."
The report also highlights the effectiveness of sport in preventing crime in the first place.
"Sport can be used to divert young people away from crime, especially those who have limited access to positive adult role models," the report reads.
It also cites examples of successful initiatives to cut crime through sport.
"While it is, by definition, difficult to measure something that has been prevented, evaluation of Fight 4 Peace’s martial arts programmes shows that, over 12 months, their work resulted in 165 crimes being avoided, delivering an estimated £1m worth of savings to the Exchequer, and an additional £2.5m worth of lifetime education and employment impacts," the report states.
"A cricket programme working in Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire reduced juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour by 76 per cent, resulting in an estimated £1.4m saving to the public purse."
Responding to the report, ukactive director of children, young people and families Jack Shakespeare said: “This report rightly recognises that the impact of physical activity and sport is not confined to the purview of DCMS – it stretches across society, from criminal justice and education to health and social cohesion.
“Physical activity offers new opportunities for disengaged young people, with the power to transform their outlook on life, create stronger social connections and improve their physical and mental health.
“If government policy fails to consider physical activity and sport when tackling the gravest social challenges facing our young people today then it is failing full stop."
To access and read the full DCMS report, click here.