LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May said she will hold a special meeting on tackling Britain's soaring knife-crime rate as she battles accusations that her government's austerity policies are partly to blame.
A wave of fatal stabbings has dominated headlines this week, displacing concerns about Britain's exit from the European Union and fuelling criticism that Mrs May is neglecting other priorities during the Brexit negotiations.
Police officers described the situation as a national emergency and politicians pressed Mrs May during her weekly question session in Parliament on Wednesday to explain whether she plans to reverse the funding squeeze on police.
Mrs May said more must be done to tackle the causes of violence and promised to meet victims but declined to say whether there would be an increase in spending on police.
"We can't arrest our way out of this problem," she said. "We will only defeat the scourge of violence if we understand and address its complex root causes."
She said she would convene what she called a summit in the coming days at her Downing Street office, bringing together ministers, community leaders, agencies and others.
The issue of knife crime has risen up the political agenda after two teenagers were stabbed over the weekend. A girl scout was fatally stabbed in the back in a park near London in what her family said was an unprovoked attack, while a 17-year-old boy was stabbed in an affluent village near Manchester, northern England, while visiting a friend.
A man believed to be in his 20s became the latest fatality on Wednesday after being stabbed in east London, bringing the number of people killed by knives this year to at least 25.
There were 285 fatal stabbings in England and Wales last year, the highest level since records began more than 70 years ago, officials statistics showed last month.
Police attribute the trend to factors from gang rivalries to cuts in youth services to provocations on social media.
At the same time, there have been big cuts in police staffing and funding under austerity measures imposed across government departments by Mrs May's Conservative government.