Today, the Riots Communities and Victims Panel published their report on the causes of last summer’s violence. The paper will make uneasy reading for the government, as it places the blame for the disturbances on social failings, rather than moral failings, and makes a number of progressive recommendations that fly in the face of the Coalition’s desire to roll back the state. The language used by the report, in contrast to that used by government ministers during the disturbances, exposes how the beliefs motivating Cameron and his ilk are not the same as those needed to truly ‘fix’ our ‘Broken Britain’.
Teresa May denounced last August’s riots as “sheer criminality”, and made clear her beliefs that government action could not be held responsible by insisting that there is no excuse for ‘looting and thuggery.’ Cameron explained the riots by stating that: ‘There are pockets of our society that are not only broken, but frankly sick,’. He should know that an ailing patient needs a dose of medicine, not poison. But that is exactly what his government prescribed in the immediate aftermath of the riots. By claiming the causes were a moral problem first, he sought to absolve the state of the responsibility of reforming the offenders. The only way government was going to intervene was to discipline them, by evicting them from their homes, taking away their financial support and throwing them in jail for absurd lengths of time.
Today’s report puts the lie to the Coalition’s version of who’s to blame. The panel concluded that a range of social factors was the root causes of the rioting, and that the government had to take action to address them. The affected pockets of society were not ‘sick’, as Cameron blithely assumed, but ‘under considerable stress’. The victims and communities involved believed government had to do more, not less, with the report finding that ‘residents do not feel public services are doing enough to address a range of related issues- from poor parenting to truancy, to youth unemployment, to tackling reoffending.’
The token gestures made by the government so far to address some of the underlying causes of social dislocation are held up as inadequate. The recently established ‘Troubled Families Programme’ has been put to work helping 120,000 severely challenged families, even though the general consensus among public services is that there are 500,000 “forgotten families” who have slipped under the radar of state support. The programme itself seems flawed anyway: it provides financial subsidies to local authorities only on the achievement of certain targets, and describes ‘success’ as ‘getting children back in the classroom’ and ‘getting parents onto a work programme’- as if transporting students into overcrowded schools and adults into unpaid labour will magically cure them of their troubles.
Other recommendations of the report- like early intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children and the provision of community role models to inspire youths in troubled areas- are unlikely to be taken up by a government that has launched a full-scale assault on youth services. The country’s 3,500 Sure Start centres face an uncertain future after the government placed responsibility for funding them with local councils, 83% of which suffered cuts in 2011. Last October, Unite revealed that 20% of the country’s youth centres are likely to close in 2012, and that government spending on youth services in general had fallen to an unprecedented 28p per young person, per day.
Cameron and co will certainly speak fine words on how the findings of the report will be taken on board by the government and help build a better future for young people and their communities. However, it should be clear to everyone that the recommendations do not square with the Coalition’s legislative agenda. There will be no help, no increase of support, no remedying of social ills. When the streets next erupt with violence, at least then it will be easy to apportion blame.
› You can read the full report by the Riot Communities and Victims Panel here.
Louie Woodall is Assistant Editor of the Young Fabians Blog