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Staying the course: What does the future hold for serious violence policy?



James Stott, Senior Strategy & Insight Manager

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Over a year after the start of the Serious Violence Duty, we're taking a look at the future of serious violence policy in a number of connected blogs. In the last two years, Crest has worked with all 43 police force areas on serious violence, supporting the Home Office to implement the Duty. Informed by research from our in-house think tank Crest Insights, the learning from our consultancy work helping Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) and local areas tackle serious violence, James Stott, Senior Strategy and Insight Manager, charts the development of serious violence policy over the last six years, and asks what is next for serious violence policy?

In 2018, the Home Office published its Serious Violence Strategy. Over the last six years, we’ve seen funding for 20 Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) and the implementation of the Serious Violence Duty - a duty asking public sector organisations to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence. Over the last year alone, central investment into serious violence has been around £80 million. In the Spring Budget, a further £75 million was committed over the next three years from 2025 onwards to expand the VRU model across England and Wales. This can be seen as a boost to compliment existing funding and an endorsement of the VRU model, but may also be viewed as a reduction in funding in the longer term, especially if this is money spread across existing and new VRU areas. 

Does this imply that serious violence is falling down the government’s agenda? 

Serious violence has been in the spotlight for the last six years - the Government focus on serious violence followed a recognised increase in homicide, knife crime, gun crime and robbery from around 2014 onwards. The 2018 Strategy emphasised the importance of a multi-agency approach, with 18 VRUs set up in 2019 to provide leadership and coordination around local responses to serious violence (these areas would later be joined by Cleveland and Humberside). Other local areas such as Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly committed their own funding to replicate this model. 

In the wake of VRUs, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 introduced a swathe of policies focused on serious violence, including Serious Violence Reduction Orders and Offensive Weapon Homicide Reviews - Crest even drafted the guidance for these reviews. The Act also brought forward the Serious Violence Duty, which has attempted to provide some statutory underpinning to the VRU model. In the background, the Youth Endowment Fund was established in March 2019 with a £200 million endowment, looking at what works to prevent children and young people becoming involved in violence and putting this into practice. Following on from this focused and intentional policy, with an impending election, there are significant questions about the future direction of serious violence policy and the funding that underpins it. There is a risk this policy agenda might wither on the vine. 

What has changed?

Given the amount of focus, we need to ask whether we have turned the tide on serious violence. The strategy itself was prompted by increases in higher harm violent offences, despite the Crime Survey for England and Wales showing long term falls in violence.  In the last decade, we’ve seen considerable increases in violent injury, which peaked last year with 574,023 offences. By comparison, there were 312,085 offences in 2012. This might not be entirely linked to genuine increases in crime. Improvements to recording processes and practices by the police, expansions of the recorded crime collection to include new offences, variations in police activity, more victims reporting crime and genuine increases in some types of crime have made substantial contributions to rises in recorded crime over recent years. 

The evaluation of the impact of VRUs has found mixed results so far. The most recent impact evaluation found that there were no statistically significant effects on the primary outcome measures of homicides and sharp object hospital admissions. However, there was a statistically significant reduction in hospital admissions for any violent injury, and analysis focusing on hotspot areas found a potential impact on both police recorded violence with or without injury. Interestingly, VRUs with more funding per capita were more likely to see reductions in hospital admissions from any violence. And VRUs that spent money on high-impact interventions were likely to show a reduction in hospital admissions from a sharp object - this underlines the importance of continuing to evaluate our work and replicate what works. 

It is important for the sustainability of the policy agenda to show impact and justify investment. And while sceptics might argue that VRUs’ achievements to date are limited, there is reason to be confident that the policy direction is beginning to have an impact, or at least will be worthwhile over the longer-term. Research, including our own, provides strong backing for the importance of a multi-agency approach, currently being championed by VRUs. Similarly, it is not such a leap to suggest that Offensive Weapon Homicide Reviews will in time focus on and identify opportunities for prevention and early intervention, showing us the focus should continue to be upstream.

Long-term approaches require time to embed. While the spotlight on serious violence has lasted around for six years, the Duty itself has only been around just over a year, with many local areas only just beginning to deliver key actions and invest in services - these areas need time to mature into effective partnerships. It will take a political commitment to provide the time to see results to ensure the survival of this policy.

What's next?

The election will undoubtedly impact the future of violence reduction policy. The Labour Party’s five missions include a pledge to halve knife crime in the next decade. There are promises to be tougher on knife carrying and criminal exploitation and invest in early intervention via a network of ‘youth futures hubs’ focused on vulnerable teenagers. This would largely represent a continuation of the policy agenda but does not acknowledge the existing challenges of responding to serious violence, namely devolved investment, cross-governmental commitment, building capability in the public sector and the need for further research. The approach being taken requires us to work smarter, not just harder.

The priority for policy makers should be continued devolved investment to local partnerships to underpin strategic commissioning. Making inroads into serious violence will almost certainly require further investment, especially given the fact that many of the critical services which prevent young people being drawn into criminality have been hollowed out, as a result of cuts to local services. Without some central funding, it is unlikely that any government will be able to provide more youth workers in A&Es, custody centres and communities, or mentors in pupil referral units. But beyond that, local partners urgently need to mature around commissioning to ensure the best use of resources available - for many partnerships this ambition is a long way off. 

However, funding is not the only consideration here. There must also be a commitment across central government, not just from the Home Office, to enable agencies to respond. One current omission from Labour’s mission is any mention of Violence Reduction Units and the Serious Violence Duty. Any policy needs to continue to adopt a place-based multi-agency approach to serious violence, building on the last six years of work. The public sector tends towards silos and deflection, meaning work is not always joined up and serious violence seen as someone else’s problem. Policy should look at enabling all services covered by the Duty to be proactive and equal partners, whether policing, schools, health or probation. There will also be a need to consider how the central government organises itself around the task of cutting serious violence. There is common acceptance of the public health approach to serious violence in local areas but this is not necessarily replicated in cross-departmental working in Whitehall. 

There also needs to be a continued focus on building the capability of public services to respond effectively to serious violence. For all the talk about the potential of AI to drive greater productivity, the sad reality is that too many services are still reliant on legacy IT systems, which are rarely interoperable. Meanwhile, data-sharing continues to be constrained by outdated cultural practices.  Public services can’t innovate if decisions on improving capability are based upon what they can afford - we often see the impact across data sharing, data science, IT systems and evaluation in all local areas. Success should not be defined as being able to share data but being able to develop modern and innovative tools to use data to bring down levels of serious violence.

Finally, we must continue to be inquisitive and support further research into the problem. For example, we rightly question how perpetrators are allowed to cause significant harm, yet our approach to intervention is not yet evidence-led, focused on picking up future high-harm perpetrators earlier. An understanding of offending trajectories shows the high-harm caused by a small group of offenders. Enabling services to reduce offending is contingent on understanding the right places to intervene - further research should prioritise understanding these trajectories. Our methods have found a link between non-domestic abuse crimes (including violent offences) and higher harm domestic abuse, and applying this method to serious violence offenders would allow us to deepen our knowledge of this cohort. 

Investment, commitment to enable a multi-agency approach, building capability and further research are just some important considerations for future governments to consider to build on an innovative policy agenda. Losing faith now, or falling into the trap of providing funding for services without considering systems change will set us back six years. Local areas need to be supported to achieve systems-change which will allow a smarter and more effective solution to the problem of serious violence. If the Labour Party wins the next election, they must continue to see serious violence as a cross-cutting priority and use this to leverage funding from across government departments, investing and promoting joint commissioning in local areas. 

If you’d like to discuss serious violence and learn more about how Crest supports organisations and partnerships tackle serious violence contact James Stott at


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