In September 2023, Jimmy Paul was appointed as the new Head of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU). As we enter a new year, he sets out the challenges that lie ahead for the country and his priorities to help create a safer Scotland for all.
As we continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis on communities across Scotland, as a nation we are faced with the following questions: will levels of violence increase over the coming years? What impact will the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have on violence trends? Will rapidly developing technology effect how violence is perpetrated? These are just some of the questions it is now my job to seek answers to as the new Head of the SVRU, as we set out to ensure that Scotland is the safest country to live in.
I’m joining a unit which is a world-leader in public health policing, a model now being followed across the UK and in countries around the globe. Scotland’s success in dramatically reducing violence from its peak in 2005 has driven interest from police forces and governments across the world. But if you treat violence as a disease, as the public health model does, then you know it is constantly adapting – and there is simply no place for complacency in the work of violence reduction.
Like most other countries, Scotland faces significant challenges. While youth offending has radically reduced over the last twenty years, young people are dealing with new and serious issues. Due to the pandemic, a whole generation of children missed out on crucial years of education, socialisation and connection. The cost of living crisis came at a time when some 24% of Scotland’s children were already living in relative poverty. And while social media offers young people new opportunities, it also means even home isn’t always a safe place with bullying and cybercrime.
Understanding the problem is crucial, but it’s the SVRU’s job to also come up with solutions. We start from a strong place, with a strategy for the years ahead and our objectives mapped out in the Scottish Government’s Violence Prevention Framework. I bring to that my own commitment to the objectives of The Promise, ‘to make sure that Scotland’s children and young people will grow up loved, safe and respected’, which the SVRU will wholeheartedly play its part to deliver as part of the scaffolding of support available to young people with care experience. In my previous role as a co-chair at the Independent Care Review, I found it distressing to see that, due to being over-criminalised for behaviour that is treated differently by authorities when growing up in a care setting, so many young care experienced people end up in the justice system. Another way is possible and within reach. Through targeted initiatives, the SVRU will play its part to make The Promise a reality: so we have fewer people in care being criminalised. This means that more of our children and young people in Scotland will grow up to live healthy, happy lives – and thrive now and in the future.
I believe a robust public health response is required in order to tackle the enduring effects of the cost of living crisis and the pandemic on our schools and communities. Tackling these challenges requires a collective effort. Scotland’s schools must be a safe place for all – teachers and school staff have the right to work free from abuse and our children deserve to learn in a safe environment.
Core to achieving all the objectives of the SVRU, is ensuring that we share power with those with lived experience of violence, so their voices are really listened to and acted on. Those with lived experience of violence hold unique insights, and therefore so many of the solutions to reducing it. So, the SVRU will set-up an advisory board of people who have lived experience of a range of issues to address the underlying risk factors of violence and to offer us high level support. The Advisory Board will work with us to challenge and guide every aspect of what we do.
I will also ensure we live up to our national remit and engage with communities across Scotland. Violence doesn’t affect every community or area of Scotland equally, so we must ensure our reach stretches to where it is needed most, and we will be sure to include communities who are too often forgotten or neglected.
Previously, I worked on building a wellbeing economy for Scotland. The SVRU will advocate for big picture change in our economy that will make it much easier for people to live healthy, safe and happy lives. We know that more equal societies, where individuals and communities feel connected and have a sense of belonging, are less likely to experience the causes of violence.
None of this will be possible without radical collaboration. Amidst spending restrictions across the public sector, we have to pull together as never before to ensure Scotland continues to make progress in preventing and reducing the harm caused by violence. I invite you to all join me in this journey and play your part to make Scotland the safest place to live: a mission which can, and must, become a reality.
A version of this post also appeared in The Herald. Agenda: Working to reduce levels of violence | The Herald (heraldscotland.com)