CRIME statistics are problematic at the best of times but as far as can be understood, having fallen from the early 2000s, knife crimes and murders have accelerated in the last five years in England and Wales (the rise is smaller in Scotland).

In 2018 there were 285 knife or sharp object homicides in England and Wales, which is the highest number since records began in 1946. A quarter of those killed are black, and knife offences are disproportionately carried out by young black men.

Having said all that, this does not mean we have a knife epidemic in the United Kingdom. Serious knife crimes are very rare, but nevertheless they appear to be a genuine and increasing problem, especially for young black men living in some of the poorer areas of London.

The British Nigerian writer, Ralph Leonard, notes the various social problems that have been associated with the knife crime problem, but argues that what is missing is a discussion about moral poverty.

With the decline of collective institutions – churches, unions, the family and a wider sense of community attachment – he argues that we have created, to some extent, a more socially disengaged group of young people who lack a grounded moral framework that gives a clear sense of self and a sense of boundaries.

The state has reacted, Leonard believes, but in a way where morality is given to us in the form of skills or training with everything from citizenship to parenting classes attempting to fill the moral vacuum.

However, in the process of doing so, the state has further undermined communities’ moral autonomy and “retarded the genuine moral development of individuals”. In other words, he concluded, morality no longer belongs to us.

The left are often uncomfortable with the question of morality but so too are many conservatives today. This helps to explain the often muted and morally shallow reaction to knife murders.

Rather than a social sense of outrage about children and young men being killed we end up instead with a discussion about the killers as victims: victims of racism, gangs, low self-esteem, austerity, stop and search, addictions, school exclusions and so on.

Many of these are genuine issues. The problem however is the “victims of” sentiment that helps to caricature young murderers as mere victims of various circumstance. But by doing so we take away any sense of their moral capacity, we dehumanise them and further add to the sense of moral confusion.