There are now 20% of young people without employment or education. The figure is expected to rise to 40%. Young people without means were eligible for an Educational Maintenance Allowance to help them stay on in education, but this is being removed. New rules on housing and other benefits have ensured that their situation can only deteriorate even further
The last few days have seen the most serious riots and looting seen in Britain for a century. There will be no need to tell you what you will have seen and read about already: whole shopping blocks blazing, windows smashed, cars aflame, relays of shopping trolleys as people walked into stores and passed plasma TVs and expensive electrical gadgets to be carted away, or coolly paraded with designer shoes. Homes were also destroyed – homes of the same poor families that were involved in the riots. There are people, with families, who have lost all their possessions and are wandering the devastated streets, homeless. And businesses wrecked: not just multinationals that can perhaps look after themselves, but mostly small corner shops, trashed and sometimes flattened - and most likely not covered by the [increasingly unscrupulous profiteering] insurance companies. Yet more people without jobs or prospects.
There are now 20% of young people without employment or education. Many of them know they will never ever have a job to go to. The figure is expected to rise to 40%! These late teenagers and early '20 somethings' are the same people who turned up in a 2007 UNICEF study of children in 21 industrialised countries as ...”the unhappiest [children] in the West.....Not only do they drink the most, smoke more and have more sex than their peers, they rate their health as the poorest, dislike school more and are among the least satisfied with life. Their relative poverty, the lack of time spent eating meals with their parents and mistrust of classmates mean that Britain languishes at the bottom of the wellbeing league table. As a result, says Jonathan Bradshaw, one of the authors of Report Card 7: an Overview of Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries, Britain is a “picture of neglect”. In the homes they come from there may be no one working. Or there is no father. Or a parent is working nights or nights and days in insecure, un-unionised work at or below the ludicrously low minimum wage. New rules on housing and other benefits have ensured that their situation can only deteriorate even further. Young people without means were eligible for an Educational Maintenance Allowance to help them stay on in education, but this is being removed. Youth centres are being closed down. In my area, the entire youth service is going to be removed. In Haringey [Tottenham] where the riots started, the youth service has already been cut by 75%. Young people had organised purposefully and precisely warned the local council in advance about the trouble lying ahead.
As readers will know, the immediate cause for the riot was the police shooting of a mixed-race young man. We have not been informed of the exact circumstances [of course, as usual] but the early attempts by the police to tell the story that they shot in self-defence was soon exposed as a lie. They had to admit that there was no evidence that the victim had fired a shot. Please bear in mind that since the murder of black youngster Stephen Lawrence almost 20 years ago, the police have never emerged totally clean of the 'institutionalised racism' that the admitted at that time. Black people are still 26 times more likely to be 'stopped and searched' by the police than Whites. It is not untypical for a black youngster to be stopped and harassed three times a night by heavy-handed policemen. Meanwhile an 'innocent' bystander, a newspaper seller on his way home was killed by uniformed thugs policing a peaceful anti-capitalist protest. The police have taken to aggressive 'kettling' of students and other protesters – surrounding and hemming in vulnerable youngsters to enclosed spaces for many hours without access to water, toilet facilities etc. Corruption is so rife among the police that the two top-ranking policemen have had to resign in recent days over lies and bribe-taking and complicity with the illegal phone-tapping and blackmail practised by the Murdoch empire and there, of this moment, no established head or deputy head of the Metropolitan Police.
Saturday night's rioting was allowed to spread all over London and all over the country without, at first, any visible police presence. The police are at present engaged in a bitter controversy with the government over threatened cuts to their number. They complain that they haven't the resources to deal with mass disturbances, and that they couldn't have predicted the serious nature of the riots. But the quiet crowd that went up to the police station demand9ng to be told what had happened were left waiting for 5 hours without an explanation. “We have no information...” But this was Tottenham, the same spot where, 26 years ago, the biggest riots known at that time had occurred under similar circumstances: a black woman had died of a heart attack while under heavy questioning from aggressive police officers. Trouble has been raging beneath the surface ever since. And the police were well aware of this.
Here is an extract from a blog by a participant:
Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything: "Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?" "Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you." Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere ''' There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they're paying attention now."
Another young man was asked on TV what he hoped to gain by all this: “Well. We got a swimming pool last time” [after the last riots there had been some small effort to provide civic amenities.
But others cried desperately to their fellow rioters: “What are you doing? Why aren't we fighting for a cause?Where's the cause? Instead of walking of with a pair of new shoes...” Another one said “We're fighting the ruling class”"The politicians say that we loot and rob, they are the original gangsters," one told a reporter. Another explained to the BBC: "We're showing the rich people we can do what we want."
And indeed the rich in Britain have never been richer. In line with world tendencies [the combined wealth of the world’s richest1000 people is almost twice as much as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion.] the profits of the super rich top hundred went up 30% last year while the poorest got poorer and the proportion of GDP going to wages altogether sank over ten points. There is an almost openly declared policy of restoring the UK's business profitability by a deliberate assault on wages and conditions.
Within this Compared with a white British Christian man with similar qualifications, age and occupation, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim men and Black African Christian men have an income that is 13-21% lower. Nearly half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households are in poverty.....Girls have better educational outcomes than boys at school and are more likely to enter higher education and achieve good degrees, but women's median hourly pay is 21% less than men's.
The Association of British Insurers has reckoned the cost of the riot-damage as something over £200million. But the combined wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain is reckoned as £390 billion. On the very same day the riots broke out the playboys who run the economy gambled away £150 billion worth of stocks and shares
Prime Minister Cameron was eventually persuaded to fly back from holiday, recall parliament and with his cabinet of multi-millionaires to declare that the rioters are “thugs” that "this is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated” he has authorised use of plastic bullets and water cannon etc. Ed Milliband or Labour, said he stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the prime Minister. 1500 have been arrested so far. The police claimed that the coming cuts to the police service would lose them 16,000 jobs. By the third day of the riots they brought in exactly that number to put an end to them in London. Even the conservatives have criticised the police for waiting too long before acting. There are those who are convinced that the police deliberately provoked the riots. Meanwhile the terror-squads of the English Defence League have not been slow to attempt to restore law and order ' Local newspapers have headlines “crack heads where heads need to be cracked" as though more broken skulls were going to lessen viloence. As the recession hits in, and public spending cut, it has already been officially recognised that thousands more will lose their council housing, benefits and jobs and there will be more again whose homes will be repossessed. Already the ill, the poor, children and the elderly are paying in money and sometimes with their lives. This riot is nothing but the first wave.
The only hope lies in the possibility of directing anger where it is due. Communities have already come together to clean up streets, defend property, talk to the young people and seek to get them positively involved. They have done this against the advice of the police. And on Saturday we will see
A North London Unity Assembly Demonstration
Give Our Kids A Future!
Saturday 13th August, 1pm
Assemble Gillet Square, Dalston, N16 at 1pm. March to Tottenham Green, N15
Our communities need a united response to both the riots and the causes of despair and frustration that can result in riots.
We call for:
- A culture of valuing, not demonising, youth and unemployed people
- Support for those affected by the rioting, including the immediate rehousing of people made homeless, grants for affected small businesses, and restoration of damaged areas
- Reversal of all cuts to youth services in our boroughs
- No cuts to public services! Instead, investment into community-led regeneration of our communities, including access for all to decent housing, jobs, education and sports facilities
- An independent community inquiry into policing methods in our boroughs, and an end to discriminatory stop and search
- Availability of legal support for all those people arrested by police. Young people face potential sentences that will affect them, their families and their wider communities for years to come. Recommended solicitors are Bindmans 0207 833 4433 and Hodge, Jones and Allen 07659 111192
We are responding to the events of the last few days, in particular the Tottenham protest over the killing of Mark Duggan and the disturbances that followed in Tottenham and Hackney.
By coming together and calling for unity we want to encourage all sections of our local communities, young and old, black and white, residents and workers, to work together to find solutions to some of our long-standing problems.
We know there are all kinds of strong feelings and differing views. We do not claim to represent the whole community, but merely seek to promote unity in the communities in which we live and work.
Simply labelling rioters as opportunistic criminals does little to relieve tensions and provides a poor explanation for the worst riots in decades. While the shooting of Mark Duggan provided the trigger, against a background of oppressive policing, especially towards ethnic minorities, the root causes are deeper.
Our communities have been blighted by high levels of deprivation, poverty and lack of opportunity for decades. Inequality is growing and recent funding cuts to local services, particularly youth facilities, along with rising unemployment, and cuts to EMA and benefits have exacerbated the conditions in which sections of frustrated young people turned to rioting, which unfortunately has resulted in people losing their homes and small/family businesses losing their livelihoods.
Britain is a wealthy country, but with deep inequality. The economic crisis created by greedy bankers and financial speculators is further impoverishing already poor areas like Tottenham and Hackney. The £390 billion of combined wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain should be redirected to fund the services we all need.
In the last few months we have seen mass local protests against cuts, student occupations to defend free education, a half-a-million strong demonstration on March 26th, and 800,000 public service workers out on strike on June 30th.
We need to build on these and other inspiring local and national struggles. Let's work together for a decent society, based not on greed, inequality and poor conditions, but on justice, freedom, sharing and co-operation.
The North London Unity Demonstration has been called by an ad hoc open assembly of 70 community activists on Tuesday 9th August. It is supported by the Hackney Alliance to Defend Public Services, Haringey Alliance for Public Services, Haringey Trades Union Council, Day-Mer (Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre), NLCH (North London Community Centre), Day-Mer Youth, Alevi Cultural Centre, Fed-Bir, Kurdish Community Centre: Roj Women, Halkevi, Gik-Der (Refugee Workers Cultural Association). Britania Peace Council: Hundred Flowers Cultural Centre, TOHUM, Socialist Party, Youth Fight For Jobs, Right To Work, Red Pepper.
Julian Silverman is teacher, musician and political activist, currently involved in the campaign to protect council services in Barnet.