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In the year to March 2018, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that there were 285 knife and sharp instrument homicides in England and Wales: the highest number since the Home Office Homicide Index began in 1946. Compared to the previous year, the number of homicide victims aged 16 to 24 years old increased by 45%. For the ONS, this partially reflected an increase in serious violence in London and other cities “where young adults have been disproportionately affected”. There has also been a reported 77% increase in homicides committed with knives by under-18s between 2016 and 2018, and a 93% increase in the number of under-16s admitted to hospital due to knife attacks since 2012. The rise in knife-related offences has also been reported by the Ministry of Justice. It found that in 2018, 21,484 knife and offensive weapon offences were formally dealt with by the criminal justice system (CJS): the highest number since 2009.

These trends have been highlighted in newspaper headlines, with some labelling the increase in knife crime an “epidemic”. However, the wide-ranging coverage has not put forward a consistent view on what is causing the increase or what should be done to curb it. This briefing explores current government policy in relation to knife crime and some of the possible causes of the recent increase.

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