15th January 2024

Over the last two decades, Scotland has witnessed a remarkable reduction in serious violence which has been especially evident in cities like Glasgow. However, while this success has been widely acknowledged, this reduction has slowed in recent years and a new report published today highlights concerns around how Scotland is adapting to emerging trends around violence and young people.  

Researchers found that in the aftermath of Covid-19 and funding cuts to local services, physical spaces where activities and support had been organised for young people have now closed. In the absence of these ‘safe spaces’ young people are now drawn to digital spaces such as social media platforms where conflict and intimidation is becoming an increasing concern.  

The research team based at the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Open University interviewed 190 participants including third sector, healthcare, government, police, youth work and young people affected by violence as they sought to understand how Scotland reduced its rates of violence and what measures need to be taken to continue its progress.  

Co-author of the report, ‘Safe Space? The past and present of violence reduction in Scotland, Professor Alistair Fraser, University of Glasgow, said: “The story of Scotland’s violence is an important one to tell. Over the course of the last 20 years we have seen how a growing chorus of support for a public health approach to violence, led by the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, which has brought about real change.  

“However, this success doesn’t mean the story has ended, and these new trends around youth culture and violence feel different and urgent. Having spoken to many young people, youth workers and practitioners as part of this research, there seems to be a fear bubbling up around the part technology can play in today’s forms of violence. “ 

As one young person told the research team, “you start arguing over Snapchat, two full schemes going at it…telling them you’re going to kill them and aw that… it’s no good man, it’s frightening.” 

Youth workers shared their concerns at the loss of these physical spaces. In one case, a youth project that had been converted into a Covid-19 testing centre now lay derelict. As one youth worker stated: “there is these spaces, but they’re lying empty, so there needs to be people actually in them, and facilitating activities and stuff.” 

Another told researchers, “if there’s nothing in their communities and there’s nothing happening, then they’re going to build a community digitally”. 

Professor Fraser urged policymakers, social media platforms and youth practitioners to “work together and learn from young people about how to create and protect ‘safe spaces’ between community and digital sites.” 

He said: “There is a lot of fear about the impact of technology but it’s here to stay and we need to learn from young people about how to support their safety both online and on the street” 

The three-year research project summarises violence reduction in Scotland and highlights key lessons for other jurisdictions. While rates of violence have remained relatively stable for the last seven years, they appear to be increasing south of the border which has led to 20 violence reduction units being created in England and Wales. While these VRUs are in their infancy, there is significant potential for policymakers and practitioners to learn lessons from Scotland in the years ahead. 

Co-author of the report, Dr. Keir Irwin-Rogers, Open University, urged politicians to back these violence reduction units with long-term funding and support, saying: “We must provide VRUs with the resources and space to focus on the root causes of violence. At the same time, we should recognise that significant and sustained declines in violence will require a long-term, cross-departmental commitment to reducing a range of harms in children and young people’s lives.” 

The research findings identified key lessons that can be learned from the Scottish experience including early intervention and a shared commitment to the value of listening to, and taking seriously, professional and lived experience in the areas of violence and violence prevention. 

The report concludes by stating that while there are substantial benefits both in Scotland and beyond for approaching issues of crime and justice through a public health lens, close attention should be paid by other VRU’s on what their local context and need is.  


Notes to Editors:  

  1. The final report ‘Safe Space? The past and present of violence reduction in Scotland’ by Professor Alistair Fraser, Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, Dr Fern Gillon, Professor Susan McVie and Dr Tilman Schwarze is available to read on the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research website.  
  1. This research project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) which is UK’s largest funder of economic, social, behavioural and human data science. 
  1. Key Statistics: Robbery fell by 71% from its highest point in 2002/03 to its lowest point in 2015/16. Homicide fell by 55% from its highest level in 2002/03 to its lowest point in 2014/15. Serious assault and attempted murder fell by 58% from a high point in 2004/05 to its lowest point in 2015/16. (Page 5 of the report). 


Crime, Violence and Inequality

Related Projects

July 2020

Public Health, Youth & Violence Reduction

The study responds to the urgent social problem of rising youth violence. England and Wales have seen marked increases in […]