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I know how to survive life on a London estate – only New York levels of policing can end this spiral of violence


I grew up in what people call a “high-risk” environment.

My father wasn’t around. My family didn’t have money. I wasn’t good in school. Drugs and criminals were all around our estate. The “root causes” of crime surrounded me but I didn’t fall into a life of crime. Why?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about my entire life, and especially now as I look to solve the problem of crime in London as a mayoral candidate. And do we ever need a solution. According to my analysis of the latest statistics published by the Metropolitan Police, robberies are up 65 per cent. Knife crime is up 55 per cent. Gun crime is up a shocking 30 per cent. We are clearly not putting enough pressure on the criminals operating in our communities. We need to do better at protecting our people.


It’s at this point in the debate that politicians usually jump in and push whatever line is convenient for their narrative regardless of the facts on the ground, whether that’s to argue for more police or an end to poverty. But as with so many things in life, the reality of today’s crime is quite a bit more complicated.

Pinning crime on poverty ignores the fact that most poor people don’t commit crime (even if they are more likely to be a victim). Nor can we arrest our way out of the problem. While police are vital to keeping order there is little they can do to improve outcomes once an individual has chosen a life of crime. To beat crime in the long run we have to stop criminals from becoming criminals in the first place. And that takes the effort of entire communities, starting with families.

I survived my tough start because of the love and support of my family. My mother kept me on the straight and narrow, getting me involved with groups such as the Army Cadets and a gymnastics club so I could become part of a broader community. These were the groups that taught me self reliance and responsibility. They also kept me away from the boys causing mischief on the estate.

My mother understood that you have to prepare the child for the road not the road for the child. She understood that if you raise a resilient child they are able to handle even the darkest path. Doing youth work for over 20 years, however, exposed me to the flip side of mum’s approach: that if we make communities dependent we make them vulnerable. We need to make our communities more resilient if we are to tackle crime.

But communities can’t become resilient when there is mayhem around; first we need to get our streets back under control. That’s why I have a plan to put a record number of police (including 800 more detectives) on London’s streets using the money we already have in our budgets. By cutting waste and bureaucracy at City Hall and adding a visitor levy we can quickly boost London to New York City levels of policing. We don’t need the central government to sort us out.

And I will use these new police resources to launch Operation London Ceasefire, a plan to create a series of Safer Street Zones in high-crime hotspots, areas that will then receive more resources, including for diversion programmes targeted at at-risk youth. As mayor I will also call in the gangs operating in these areas and present them with a choice: take us on and go to jail, or choose a different path that results in training and a job.

With criminals and gang members under sustained pressure we will be able to better support parents and communities by joining up the health, education, and social support services to deliver the so-called “public health” approach to crime.  The public health approach recognises that criminality is a complex issue, one that is better managed if all parts of the system are working towards the same outcome.

Because a young person from a broken home does less well in school. A poorly-educated child is less likely to find a good job. And a person with no money is more likely to be attracted to the siren song of crime.  

It’s not a simple cycle to break but break it we must.

Shaun Bailey is the Conservative candidate for London mayor in 2020


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