Tackling Serious Violence: Understanding the Causes and Building a Sense of Belonging

Paul Oginsky, CEO of Vibe, reflects on the current landscape of violent crime and serious violence, and offers questions for consideration as well as recommendations for preventing and addressing the causes of serious violence.

The spate of murders, acid attacks and stabbings in London this year are shocking and incredibly sad. Our television screens and newspapers have been full of commentators and politicians calling for something to be done.

Calls have been for more police, more stop and search, longer sentences, and even the introductions of curfews.

All these suggestions are reactive and whilst they may supress the problem for a short while, they are ultimately self-defeating and too expensive to maintain. But even if they worked, the most poignant question is, “what type of society do we want to create?”

Surely, we want an inclusive society that is based on integrity.

As savage as these people are behaving, they are still people, they are not aliens. Their behaviour can and must be understood even though it is totally reprehensible.

The key question is, “what do people need to stop them behaving in this way?”

People need to belong to something.

If people don’t belong to ‘this’, then they will belong to ‘that’. Whatever this and that are.

In the case in point, the ‘this’ is our society and the ‘that’ being a violent gang.

In other words, the problem is that people, especially young people, don’t feel like they are part of society and they do feel like part of a gang. In the young person’s eyes, the gang is meeting their needs by offering them some sense of security and giving them a sense of belonging.

Solving violent crime is far too complicated an issue for a resolution to be contained within a short blog, but I offer policy makers three questions and recommendations.


  1. How do we best use money to help young people to feel like they belong to something positive?
  2. When young people start to feel the draw of a negative group, how can we affirm that they are still a valued member of society?
  3. When young people don’t succeed in education, how can we still find a way for them to contribute?


  1. Build a local network of paid staff and volunteers to build relationships and provide activities for young people.
  2. Always be respectful with young people. Don’t talk down to them and don’t use sarcasm. Go out of your way to demonstrate that you value their opinions.
  3. It should be the prime purpose of the education system to find what young people are good at and develop that. Even if young people are unemployed, there should be the opportunities to contribute whatever they are good at to develop their talents and be appreciated for it.

It is amazing what people will do for something they feel like they belong to: religion, family, football club or gang. British society is not without its faults, but it is a wonderful thing to be part of and a terrible experience to live here and feel like you are an outsider.

To date, the government has focused on two of people’s three main needs; it ensures people can eat and look after themselves with benefits and the living wage, and it looks to keep people secure with policing and health and safety laws, but until it ensures that all people gain a sense of belonging, we will see gangs.

Finally, I would like government to consider this, being isolated from society and joining a gang is a terrible thing, the murder rate in the UK is around 600 people per year. But many young people can feel total isolation, even from one another. The suicide rate in the UK is around 6000 per year and isolation can affect people of all ages; it is estimated that there are 1 million people living with chronic loneliness in the UK today.

Perhaps now that we have left the European Union it is more important than ever to ensure that people know where they belong.