The recent and spreading rioting, looting and violence is completely indefensible and makes one wonder what is happening in the UK when communities are closing down and streets left to yobs. Are our streets becoming dominated by youths from Lord of the Flies?
There will be many questions asked of the police response and whether they could have done more to prevent the problems, but that I feel is an operational question and to be honest they’re damned if they step in and damned if they don’t.
I would, however, like to focus on 2 aspects, firstly my thoughts on why the riots may be spreading and secondly why it’s even happening.
Firstly the advent of social media, 24 hour TV is making it much easier for groups to get together and copy events happening a few miles away. There is no way that any of the riots (Tottenham being the possible exception) are related to the death of Mark Duggan or a social / political comment. Groups / gangs saw what was possible and replicated them in other areas. London in the suburban areas is very quiet as I write with most restaurants and shops closing early and with heavy police presence there may not be the violence of the past few days. However, in Manchester and Birmingham, there are fresh areas to target and the gangs there want to show what they can do.
So if this is not an explicit social action what is it? I believe that what we’re seeing is decades of failed policies by successive governments for social mobility and increasing opportunities for those in the poorest parts of our community. Being poor doesn’t mean you riot and thieve, being poor doesn’t mean you don’t know what is right from wrong, but for many too many generations have given up. They see no change in their lives from their parents.
It’s not easy to change if the parents have given up we need to encourage the children, but with no role models and lack of ways to channel their energy, many of the poorest youths today are not being the citizens we want them to be. If I was to come back with a stolen TV my parents or guardians would march me to the nearest police station, for these kids it won’t happen.
It means more targeted resources for the poorest children at school, more youth and sport centres to keep them occupied and be with role models. Better careers guidance to show them what is possible. Increased investment for apprenticeships and the government paying for everyone to have the opportunity to sit exams up to A-Levels. That means that someone who has dropped out of school at 16 but realises they want to turn themselves round at 25 can get A-Levels at a college, not pay for it themselves, which can be a struggle.
David Cameron’s words that “you will feel the full force of the law, and if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishment.” sounds good, but in the long run it is completely wrong.
The youngest arrested, so far,is 11 years old, is it the 11 year olds fault he was caught up in this or the social factors he’s brought up in? Is his whole life now going to be determined by this one event? It is also why we need restorative justice and to ensure criminals are rehabilitated.
How many people would employ people who can not read or write very well? How many would give them a job if they have been in prison? Too often prison is a revolving door with short jail sentences doing nothing, what hope for those who want to go on the straight and narrow, what does it mean for their kids? Re-equip those who want to learn and be a part of society by ensuring they can read and write, learn a basic skill and be employable.
We are all guilty of creating the environment in which we now live in. The riots are wrong, but we should all be doing more to ensure these events never happen again.