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Austerity and rampant drug dealing have created a “lost generation” of children living in fear of violence across the UK, police and former gang members have said.

There are fears the recent spate of bloody street stabbings in London, where 20 teenagers have been killed so far this year, will not be the last if funding to police and public services is not urgently increased.

Knife crime stands at a record high, but Home Office-funded research has found that authorities in many areas do not understand how gangs operate or how social media is fuelling violence.

And statistics show that the rising number of people found carrying knives and being stabbed are getting younger and younger, with nine-year-olds “tooling up” in the mistaken belief that it will protect them.

Mark Burns-Williamson, chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said children were being exploited by “county lines” – gangs that export drugs and violence from urban to rural areas.

He told The Independent the problem was being exacerbated by school exclusions and the closure of youth centres and other services aimed at keeping teenagers off the streets.

“If we’re not careful, we’re building up a generation of young people who are going to be lost to the system,” Mr Burns-Williamson said.

“It is a real worry and we have to look at early intervention and prevention.

“The government has come very late in the day to this, we know we can’t just turn these things around overnight. It takes a lot of sustained work upstream to really make a difference.”

Gavin McKenna, a former gang member who now runs the Reach Every Generation group, said he was seeing children involved in gang culture and drug crime getting a lot younger.

“Often the most worrying and violent kids are 12 to 14,” he told The Independent.“There’s a whole generation getting taken out because nothing has been done to stop it.”

Mr McKenna said austerity was fuelling knife crime, with violence starting to increase in 2014 as government cuts took their toll. Read more

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