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4 Jan, 2012 06:43

UK youths join gangs to escape abuse at home

While curbing gang violence is now a top priority for Britain's leaders, there are fears that their efforts will be in vain unless the government tackles widespread poverty and deprivation which are being worsened by austerity cuts.

Gang culture has become such a part of the British landscape that it has now been dramatized in a TV series. But for those who get sucked into its seamy underworld, the reality is far from glamorous. Gavin, a former gang member, got involved to escape feelings of powerlessness engendered by an abusive home-life where money was a constant struggle. “Seeing the things I saw when I was a young child – violence on my mum, my dad having guns and knives, stabbing people – it was learnt behavior, and I was re-enacting all that I knew,” he explains. “Normal children would be angry, but I would go over the top, and I started to get a name for that, like I was a bit crazy.And before you knew it, people started to respect me for it,” Gavin told RT.At his lowest ebb, Gavin admits to having stabbed a girl – and his story is not unusual in deprived areas.Nowhere is the question of how to solve the gang problem in London more relevant than Newham.It lies in the shadow of London’s 2012 Olympic Park.But it also has more gangs than almost anywhere else in London.Round here, young people say, you start by just hanging out with your friends on the street, and you end up in a spiral of gang violence and fear.In Newham, more than half of all kids are living below the poverty line and they do not feel the government is doing anything to help them.“How can you help me if you don’t understand me?” says Gavin.“You have to have relations.I don’t even think they know what it looks like round here.We’re now in the borough with the highest stab rate in London.And the neighboring borough’s got the highest gun crime.And the neighboring borough to that has got the highest murder rate.If the government really knew and understood, would that be happening?”When Gavin met Sheldon Thomas, an ex-gangster himself, he turned a corner, and they are now working in a team to get young people out of gangs. The government claims it wants the same thing – and having laid the blame for August’s riots firmly at the door of gangs, their solution is the carrot and stick method. “Our review found some excellent police work to identify and manage the highest-risk gang members through a combination of targeted surveillance, enforcement and arrest for every offence, however minor, and positive offers of training, employment and drugs treatment for those who want a different life,” says Theresa May, the UK’s Home Secretary.“But for those not prepared to break away from violence, they will face harsher and tougher punishment.”But this is not going to work, according to Sheldon Thomas, who feels the government is thwarting him at every turn.“What they do is they look at the manifestations of gangs – gun violence, murders, gang rape, drugs. That’s just the manifestation.That’s not the causes of it.The causes stem from family breakdown, morals gone out the window from society as a whole,” Sheldon Thomas told RT.While the government rhetoric sounds encouraging, other policies will undermine both carrot and stick.Economic austerity cuts will mean 16,000 fewer police officers on the streets; and services that deal directly with gangs now will have their funding cut by between 20 and 90 per cent in some areas.That means that in the future, young people like Gavin will have nowhere to go but the street.