The Home Office's campaign to put knife crime stories on takeaway boxes in chicken shops across the country has been branded "out of touch", "crude" and "racist" by Labour MPs and Twitter users.
As part of its #Knifefree campaign by FCB Inferno, the government has redesigned more than 321,000 chicken boxes to dissuade young people from carrying weapons. The boxes will include real-life stories of young people who have chosen to pursue "positive activities" instead of carrying a knife.
More than 210 independent shops and chains in England and Wales, including Morley’s, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken, will have their packaging replaced with the work.
The work kicked off in April and included out-of-home ads and a hero film for TV that showed young men and women who no longer carry a knife with them.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott labelled the campaign "crude" and "offensive". She tweeted: "Instead of investing in a public health approach to violent crime, the Home Office have opted for yet another crude, offensive and probably expensive campaign. They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them."
Labour MP David Lammy echoed Abbott’s criticism of the Home Office, referencing Boris Johnson’s 2002 Daily Telegraph column in which he called black people "piccaninnies with watermelon smiles", commenting: "Is this some kind of joke?! Why have you chosen chicken shops? What's next, #KnifeFree watermelons?"
Street Kitchen, the homelessness support group, was among Twitter users opposing the work online, questioning whether the government had found a "causal link between fried chicken and knife crime?"
Other Twitter users criticised the campaign for "racism", playing on stereotypes, and being "almost cartoonish" in its targeting of "the black community" through fried chicken.
An out-of-home version of the #knifefree campaign will also be shown on digital screens in many of the shops, and running at Notting Hill carnival.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said: "These chicken boxes will bring home to thousands of young people the tragic consequences of carrying a knife and challenge the idea that it makes you safer.
"The government is doing everything it can to tackle the senseless violence that is traumatising communities and claiming too many young lives, including bolstering the police’s ranks with 20,000 new police officers on our streets."