The Riots: Official whys and wherefores

The Ministry of Justice has now concluded that “It is clear that compared to population averages, those brought before the courts were more likely to be in receipt of free school meals or benefits, were more likely to have had special educational needs and be absent from school, and more likely to have some form of criminal history”.

Notice the absence of any analysis along the lines of “they’re just scum”.

Although the MoJ’s conclusions could easily have been predicted, what is concerning is the rush by politicians to link the August riots to gang culture; “at the heart of all the violence sits the issue of street gangs” (David Cameron), “We need a sustained effort to tackle gangs in our cities” (Ed Miliband), “I don’t think anyone could have witnessed last week’s events and somehow be complacent about gang culture”, (Nick Clegg). These pillars of society were unable, or unwilling, to identify the real causes. Some figures that may have been useful to these chaps at the time;

35% of adult rioters were living on benefits – three times the national average.
64% of young rioters lived in the country’s worst-off districts.
42% of young rioters received free school meals.
Two-thirds were classed as having special educational needs – three times the national average.
More than a third had been excluded from school in the past year.
One in ten rioters had achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE (compared with over 50% nationally).
Only 13% were identified as being gang members (I’m interested to know how they define “gang members” – there is an enormous grey area which I won’t explore here).

So now we start to build a picture of the people who were responsible and the issues which they face in their lives. I hasten to add, none of this excuses rioting, however these conclusions and statistics do go some way to explaining.

Three-quarters of those convicted of offences linked to the riots had a previous conviction or caution. You could argue that this is an indictment of the Criminal and Youth Justice Systems and to some extent, it is. However the issues which the MoJ analysis are societal issues, most of which are beyond the remit of the creaking Probation and Prison services and to a lesser extent, Youth Offending Service. People working in these institutions are capable of a lot, changing society itself should be considered an unreasonable expectation.

Michael Gove has admitted that the riots show the existence of an “educational underclass”. He is correct, I am particularly concerned about inequality in education and provisions for pupils assessed as having special educational needs. During my work in an inner-city Youth Offending Service, I found that a huge proportion of young people coming through the court system were (often occasional) attendees of the borough’s Educational and Behavioural Difficulty (EBD) School. I’ve spoken to many current and ex-pupils of the school who are either completely disaffected from education, rarely attending, behaving poorly, achieving little and often reaching the age of 16 with no grades and little confidence in themselves.

I previously argued that the riots were an indication of a section of the population who receive a strong message from mainstream society of “we don’t care about you”. The riots were indicative of a mutual lack of respect. Add together the EBD school, the deprived area, the poverty, the lack of attainment, which the MoJ identified, multiply by cutting of public services and increasing unemployment and it can only equal “we don’t care about you”. How else would these people behave in return?

As a society, we cannot expect respect from those to whom we show none. In order to show respect, the public school system must be improved; those who need the most assistance in their education must receive it, rather than the vice versa system we have at present. People must be lifted out of poverty, social housing must be increased and maintained at a higher standards. If we address these things, we will see a genuine reduction in crime and gang activity. Unfortunately this is a lot more complex than putting rioters in a box as “gang members” or “scum” and therein lies the challenge.

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