The government is wrong on the riots
Last month, as our cities burned amidst the worst rioting in decades, social divisions in modern Britain were laid bare. The violence and the criminality that we saw shocked us all, and none of us would seek to justify or condone it in any way.
And the victims were overwhelmingly frightened ordinary people in working class communities – with the police and emergency service workers called on to put their safety on the line to restore order.
The Prime Minister chose to describe these events as ‘criminality pure and simple’. But it isn’t so simple and what happened in August actually revealed deep fractures within our society.
A society that ranks among the most unequal anywhere in the developed world; where a super rich elite have been allowed to float free from the rest of us; where a generation of young people are growing up without work, without prospects, without hope. None harder hit than the black youngsters held back by an unemployment rate approaching 50 per cent.
The government’s response to the riots has been profoundly wrong. Rather than addressing the complex long-term factors that lie behind the alienation – the poverty, the lack of social mobility, young lives stunted by hope denied – they have instead reached for simplistic clichés about moral decay.
And yet as they have retreated to Victorian language about the undeserving poor, they have said nothing about moral disintegration among the rich: the financiers with huge assets sneakily channelled through the tax havens; the out-of-control traders and speculators who razed our economy to the ground; and the super rich tax cheats whose greed impoverishes our schools and hospitals.
Let’s be clear about this: high moral standards, yes of course, but not just for the poor and the ordinary, they must be for the rich and the privileged too.
And let’s also resist blatant double standards, so that someone who steals a bottle of water goes to jail while there are second chances aplenty in the corridors of power.
What happened in our cities last month has not just raised alarming questions about the country we have become, it has not just exposed the pernicious inequality bequeathed by neoliberalism, but it has also underlined the folly of coalition policy.
Withdrawing EMA help from disadvantaged teenagers. Cutting youth services by two thirds and more. Abolishing the Future Jobs Fund and the Youth Guarantee that gave new chances to young people previously in utter despair.
Of course I accept the riots were not caused by the cuts – but as any fair-minded person must see the cuts will undoubtedly make the underlying problems much worse.