Tag Archive: social exclusion

Across the world pictures showed the unrest in London recently and with it the commentary from the news organisations.  Much has been made of the actions of the groups of youngsters and most of what people will have seen will have been portrayed in an entirely negative light.  Many may think this is quite correct and that no matter what the causes such wanton vandalism and destruction of property should never be condoned.  Others including a great many on the left have stated, perhaps more understandably, that whilst they understand the concerns of the younger generation they do not feel that their actions will bring about any change.  The young could level the same accusation at those of us who took to the streets in our millions against the wars in the Middle East for it had less immediate impact than their actions last month.

I will not dwell on the riots themselves, much has been said by people who were closer to it and can give a better insight into what was really going on rather than the media whitewashing that took place.  I have been asked by many of my more moderate friends to actively condemn the riots but I have been unable to do so.  I would not condone actions that put other people in serious danger as with the isolated acts of arson but the damage to property that will already be insured is of little concern to me.  I would like to point out that to those of us with a solid middle-class education and surroundings it is very easy to presume that people should seek dialogue and collective and constructive action to make themselves heard.  Is it not us who are the naive thinking that if our voices are loud enough that we may be heard?  Government policy in recent years has not upheld that assumption.  The young in this instance have not concerned themselves seeking dialogue with those who would not even bother to understand the language were they even prepared to listen, they are not burdened by the self-importance of the educated presuming a right for their subjective rationality to be heard.

The government were quick to condemn those involved and equally quick to try to use it as a graphic illustration of the fall in moral standards amongst the youth.  The term “feral underclass” came into being, a crasser piece of media-posturing and complete lack of understanding of the world as it is one could not have found.  Should we be surprised that a group of public school boys who breezed through both school and university without ever a fear of failure, penury or unemployment should fail to understand the situation as it affects the vast majority of the population?  The truth is that since 1979 the pervading establishment line has been of individualism, commercialism, consumerism and capitalism such that the worth of a man or woman is solely judged by their material possessions or the money they have as the potential to have these material possessions were they to choose to do so.  Thatcherism did not stop when Thatcher left power, it became more insidious, more caught up with the very fabric of society.  What seemed deeply wrong in the excesses of the 1980s became normal, accepted, heralded.

Social responsibility has not decreased because of the younger generation, it has done so because of the very actions and policies of those who now complain about it the loudest.  If you create a society such as this and then marginalise vast swathes of it without hope, education, prospects or surroundings that they can take any pride in could one really expect the outcome to be anything other than what happened?  If you create a society based on a comparison of material possession it is inevitable that you will further entrench the divide between those that have and those that have not.  Where the fluidity between the two factions does not exist it is understandable that people will look at what the alternatives are, be they gang membership, drug dealing, theft, looting etc etc. as a criminologist at the University of Bedfordshire pointed out “if you don’t want these people to be in gangs then you have to ask where do you want them to be?”  The rioting is not something done with the express purpose of offending, it is something done by people to re-engage at least a little in what this society considers to be normal.  Why should any section of society owe an allegiance to a system that so clinically alienates them?  So often is the idiom ‘you have to earn respect’ trotted out that it is a wonder that none of the people who say it seem apply it to themselves.

David Cameron appears to have launched his crusade on fatherless families, who must, according to him, shoulder much of the blame for the decline in social cohesion which Cameron says the government intends to take action to deal with this.  However as yet the full details are unclear either as to what he means by this or what form exactly this action will take.  Indeed what Cameron and his cronies actually know about fatherless families other than what they read in the Daily Mail, that paragon of truth and justice, is decidedly open to question.  Perhaps the plan is to make it more difficult for families to split up?  Do they really think that locking people into loveless marriages will help either parents or their children?  Or is this a cynical exploitation of a situation to pedal arcane religious values that should have been rejected a great many years ago?  Already as the law stands unmarried fathers risk total lockout from their children if the mother wishes to exercise it, so why not seek to reform the rules in that area so as to protect the rights of children to maintain a relationship with fathers who have done nothing more than removing themselves from what is likely to have been a volatile relationship situation.

Maybe the great leaders resplendent with their Stepford wives and opulent lifestyles believe that not being married makes the fathers of the great unwashed more likely to just up and leave on a whim?  Have they bothered to research this?  I can state categorically that leaving my children behind with a woman I had grown to detest and fearing for their very well-being was not at all a decision I took lightly, or quickly.  I did so because I knew that to provide both me and my children a home and an environment with values that I believed in was the only thing I could do as a responsible parent to make the best of a situation that was already bad and getting ever worse with each passing day.  It has been a decision that has led to an iniquity of consequences that remain 9 years later.  Would being married have made me more likely to stay?  I would prefer to ask the question of given the circumstances would my staying have benefitted the children more than my leaving?  Is there any evidence that those who try to stay together for the children do any less harm to themselves or their offsprings?

The Conservatives have reacted to the riots the only way they know how, by appeasing those that have and those that own and removing anyone who gets in the way.  They have sought to exploit it for their own political purposes, as if this should be any surprise.  Imprisoning many participants with sentences that would make many violent criminals pale, or for that matter dishonest and/or corrupt MPs.  Statistics published by the Guardian appear to suggest that sentences for rioters are 25% longer than normal whilst most have been remanded in custody awaiting trials.  The imprisonment rate for these cases has been 70% as opposed to the usual 2% in Magistrates courts. This is clearly no coincidence, such action is not that of the odd hanging judge but the subject of political intervention. This in a climate where we have been told constantly that the prison numbers have stretched the system to the very limits of its capacity.  The implications of this are severe, firstly the cost to the taxpayer is immense, in a time where we are being told that public spending must be reigned in this seems like an unnecessary form of expenditure.  Secondly facilities whilst in prisons will not be available to many of the inmates and without the chances of rehabilitation it is well-documented that re-offending is far higher.  So who is this policy designed to protect?  Is the public in grave danger if those involved in the riots are left to go about their business on the streets?  Much of the justification for this has been that it should be a deterrent to others thinking of doing the same.  Here we are really getting to the heart of the matter.  Ministers have no problem making the taxpayer foot the bill for the cost of keeping property safe for doing so is their primary concern, they benefit directly from doing so.  However in perhaps the most despicable case of double standards the millionaires daughter who stole £5500 of goods and made off in her car was granted bail on the grounds she submit to a curfew in her parent’s large detached farmhouse with land near Orpington, Kent.

In order to ensure that the “feral underclass” get the message there are efforts to remove benefits from convicted rioters, as if the spell in prison and a criminal record deemed enough for murderers and rapists is somehow insufficient in this case.  It is difficult to see this action as anything other than petulance at best and more likely a sustained program of social engineering.  There is little point in having the argument about what prison is for with these people for it represents a brushing under the carpet, an abdication of moral responsibility and an act of retribution for the act of offence.  Rehabilitation is for the soft liberals, why bother paying money on people who have done wrong?  It is not worth having this argument because no matter how incorrect and short-sighted their position may be they are too blinkered, too stupid or just too damn bigoted to accept the truth that if you are going to pay money for convicted criminals then the investment yields greater return if targeted at rehabilitation, the trouble is that yield has no bottom line and no profit which is the only language that these people really understand, one condensed even more than the text speak of the people they despise.

So what is the alternative solution to the quandary?  Many might say that police manpower will have a bearing on the level of control that can be exacted, others have said that water cannon and rubber bullets should be used, as if the evidence of their use in Ulster has done anything at all to quell unrest, in fact quite the contrary respect for the police and army could not have sunk any lower during the draconian period of the British government in the 6 counties.  According to the police themselves in order to police better they need more officers and better resources than now and if they are to be compared in statistics and response to cities like New York then they should have the same level of subsidy.  The Tories are thus presented with a problem because their plans had not included such increases in spending and public spending reforms are in fact likely to expect the police to do more with less.  It would. however, surprise me little if the Tories were to divert funding from other areas in order to stem this supposed moral collapse (which sounds to me much more like right-wing rhetoric using an emotionally emotive event as the metaphorical sledgehammer to crack a hazelnut.)

Would increasing the police numbers really have made a difference?  It rather depends on a couple of factors, firstly what it is it that the increased numbers of officers are charged with doing.  If there as more of a response to events that have already broken out then I would dismiss this as posturing and neo-fascist enforcement of the move to a police state (see graphic novel V for Vendetta), if however it would be to increase community work and enfranchise the areas and the people therein where the trouble is so frequently breaking out then this idea may have some merit, but only if in conjunction with a host of other measures.  Where for example is the education reform?  Where the plans to get people to work in ways that they can do in conjunction with their benefits rather than instead of?  Where the apprenticeship schemes that enable trades to be learnt and both trainer and trainee to benefit?  Where the empowerment of the dispossessed, the housing of the homeless, the facilities for the teenagers to learn and enjoy themselves?  Where the preventative healthcare system saving people from long periods of pain and unproductivity?  These would be examples of worthwhile public spending, things that made not just a tangible difference to those in receipt of the money but to the wider society as a whole for is it really only the individual who benefits from a reintroduction to society?

Would that I had the ear of the policy makers and were able to make them see sense but I have no more prospect of this than those who took to the streets.  More likely is that the continuation of disaster capitalism is using this as a battering ram to push even more human rights abuses into the mainstream now that the war on terror has been quiet for a while.  The backlash will be severe as can already be seen and yet the morally-bankrupt rich who have for decades milked and manipulated the system will continue to be allowed to do so without censure.  Does that not make you want to take to the streets in your droves?

Song Of The Day ~ Labi Siffre – I Don’t Know What’s Happened To The Kids Today

As Liverpool mourns the death of an 11 year old boy, shot by another teenage boy on a bike the politicians are quick to come forward to claim they have the answer and will be implementing a series of strategies, the opposition claim in fact they have the answer and will implement a load of different strategies. Forgive my cynicism but I fail to see either of their chosen paths particularly relevent.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith thinks that a border force will stop people and guns from getting in. I’m sure that the Home Office is not at all jumping on the chance to slip some more anti-immigration legislation through tacked to some rhetoric about it being designed to get guns off our streets.

Conservative leader David Cameron’s answer is to give tax breaks to married couples, amounting most likely to around £20 a week. How they can see this as a panacea one can only speculate. I don’t know if they have really studied the figures or whether they, like Labour, have chosen to tailor make the problem to fit the solution they already wish to put in place anyway. Do they really feel that children from 2 parent families will never offend and that the culture that exists today will go away if parents are given a spare tenner each of a week. This is utter lunacy. I have a suspicion that many of the statistics that the Tories use come from a comparison that transcends local boundaries. Middle class children are less likely to offend, this is because their parents are often able to give them activities, a breadth of experience, some realistic chance of an education and employment not merely the fact that there may be 2 parents still together. It is true that a dual parent income may well enable a different upbringing but if the state provides things as it should be doing this fact will become an irrelevance.

The actual context of this area of Liverpool stems from the rivalry between the Croxteth Crew and the Strand Crew. This part of the city is pretty characterised by sink housing, unemployment, poverty and under-investment. There is little or no infrastructure in these areas nothing for children to do, same old story as in cities across the country. When the news crews did talk to Local councillors the message was clear that they didn’t feel that investment was coming in the area, and this combined with and contributed to a lack of education and jobs. Children from empoverished parents, and it doesn’t matter in this environment whether it be one or two parents present, see large sums of money and kudos changing hands in the gang and drug culture is it any wonder that it is a lure for some. Furthermore there is widespread evidence that those who choose not to get involved are persecuted as outsiders. This sort of peer pressure is already rife in children of these impressionable ages, if all your friends are dealing drugs and making money and carrying weapons…

A recent survey stated that Liverpool and Manchester were the easiest places in the country to get firearms. Whilst still a comparitively new and shocking phenomenon it is clear that this sort of crime is on the rise. As a whole crime remains in a slight downward trend over the long-term but in the short-term violent crime is increasing especially in specific city areas.

Children this age feel they are invincible, this is nothing new, we have all been there, the consequences of actions simply do not happen to us, statistics and warnings are only for those on paper. Kids used to go out mugging when I was growing up, occasionally they’d have got hold of a piece of wood or a flick knife, this was relatively common in the shit parts of West London I grew up in. Guns were pretty much confined to the US and the big boys. There weren’t a lot of guns on the streets but the mentality was there to use them of they were. The idea of carrying to protect oneself was a normal gambit for many I knew who carried knives. I carried one until someone made it clear to me that if you carry it you have to be prepared to use it and after pondering on this a while I decided I probably wouldn’t be.

Every now and again such an example will be deemed so terrible that it makes national headlines, but the events in cities such as Nottingham and parts of London barely make a ripple these days. Gun crime may be extreme but these days only murders tend to make the national news and it is generally put down to gang crime. People are shot with increasing regularity and kids are amongst the dead and wounded all the time.

When this does make the news we have a seeming scrum to offer opinions before 2 days later it has all died down. What is going on in the interim time before the next story? It would apear not a great deal. A policy being floated now is that witnesses will be compelled to give evidence and police claim, as always, that they will protect them. Their record on this is not good. This fails to take account of the fact that it is not cool to be a grass and those who are perceived to be so, whether or not there is any foundation in the accusation, are often beaten up, ostracised, mistrusted etc. Add to this the fact that if you are the wrong colour in the wrong place at the wrong time the police will stop and search or randomly arrest, this happens daily to black and asian youths alike depending on which area you are in and whom the police feel is the greatest threat. A culture of hating the police for their bigotry, harrassment and racism is becoming more and more engrained. This is not a environment conducive to obtaining information and whilst it persists the police will always be fighting a rearguard action.

A big deal has been made of the fact that the parents responsible for young offenders didn’t know where they were when they were committing the crimes. I know full well that when I was younger and went to school on my own on the bus I had the opportunity to get into trouble which I sometimes took and my Mother was not aware of where I was at a specific moment in time because she relied on good faith that I was getting the bus into school as I had been told. Should she have never let me out of her sight, I don’t believe this would have been good for my upbringing or self-reliance or social interaction.

It is being cited that central to this issue is that of home life but to my mind that is largely missing the point. Children do not spend all their time at home nor should they do so. We have to keep a healthy balance between allowing our children progressive freedom in order to face the outside world and facing the people in it and keeping them safe. Were our streets to be safe now we would have far less worry. The lack of social cohesion is always going to bite us in the arse and if we do not tackle this then no money, tax breaks or more plod is going to make much difference.

Looking at the youth as an entity is like holding up a mirror to our future. If we do not want things to escalate as they have done in the US where gun crime is far more normal then we must act now to give young people inclusion and a stake in the community in which they live. You cannot expect them to care for people or places when they have grown up in a culture that sees them only as a nuisance and to be locked up after the sun goes down. To my mind there should be a form of national service, it should be gender agnostic and put school leavers of 16 to work for 2 years and leavers of 18 for 1 year if going to University/Technical College (it is important not to favour merely the academic as this is not the only form of education) or 18 months if they are not going into some form of tertiary education. No buts, no exemptions. The work should be in hospitals, youth clubs, old folks homes, drying out hostels, nurseries. Everyone should get the chance to try these things out it is good for the community and good for the individual.

It can be achieved, even in this modern world but the will has to be there and at present that is open to question. Canada is right next to the US and yet it does not have the same level of gun crime as the US despite gun ownership being of similar proportion. If you invest with this in mind you are taking care of the future, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. But it has to be an integrated policy and it has to be continuous, there is no quick fix and there never will be. Until we start to address this we will watch young people kill themselves.

Song Of The Day ~Gary Numan & Tubeway Army – Are Friends Electric?