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Places in England that have seen the biggest council spending cuts to youth services are likely to see the biggest increases in knife crime, a study says.

Research by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime showed the average council cut real-terms spending on youth services – such as youth clubs – by 40% between 2014/15 and 2017/18.

And the four worst-hit areas have seen some of the biggest knife crime rises.

APPG chair MP Sarah Jones said youth services cannot just be “nice to have”.

She added: “We cannot hope to turn around the knife crime epidemic if we don’t invest in our young people.

“Every time I speak to young people they say the same thing: they need more positive activities, safe spaces to spend time with friends and programmes to help them grow and develop.”

The City of Wolverhampton and the City of Westminster were the worst hit, with youth services cut by 91% since 2014/15, followed by Cambridgeshire County Council (88%) and Wokingham Borough Council (81%), according to the figures.

It is not possible to directly compare the geographical areas covered by police forces and local authority boundaries.

But the APPG analysis suggests forces serving areas with the biggest cuts, such as West Midlands Police, the Metropolitan Police, Cambridgeshire Police, and Thames Valley Police, have also seen some of the highest increases in knife crime.

The APPG obtained the figures on youth service budgets using freedom of information requests sent to 154 local authorities in England, which 106 replied to.

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Media caption‘I live in fear of knives’

Children’s charity Barnardo’s, which supported the research, said the figures were “alarming but sadly unsurprising” and called for central government to “work with local authorities to ensure they have enough funding to run vital services”.

Knife crime reached a record level last year in England and Wales with 40,829 offences involving knives or sharp objects recorded by police in 2018.

The Office for National Statistics said cases of murder and manslaughter, excluding terror attacks, increased by 12%. There were 732 killings, up from 655 in 2017 – the highest since 2007.

The Metropolitan Police recorded the most knife offences – 14,660 – representing a 1% yearly rise. The biggest increase of 54% was recorded by British Transport Police, while Merseyside saw a 35% rise and Dyfed-Powys 28%.

The figures show there were 252 killings involving a knife or sharp instrument in 2018. There were 18,950 assaults and 17,402 robberies where a knife or sharp instrument was used.

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