Not so pure and simple: What the riot report tells us
The latest report on the riots published by the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel reveals nothing new. The main points made about bad parenting, lack of social access, the issue of police, communication and the role of schools are not new ideas, but perhaps the publicity that this report has received will finally make the government and local authorities listen to real issues faced by people in the areas studied.
Several commentators at the time of and shortly after the riots noted that they were there result of an endemic problem related to the deprivation in the areas and the ‘forgotten society’. These comments were interpreted as sympathising with the rioters and trying to politicise a situation that apparently had nothing to do with government, police or local authorities. The Prime Minister was quick to label the riots a “ mindless violence”, stating that it was “wrong to say there is any justifiable causal link” between the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham and the subsequent protest the ignited the riots.
Studies conducted shortly after the riots revealed a deeper problem. The interim report published in November pointed to deeper social issues, sweeping away comments such as “criminality pure and simple” that David Cameron is most likely (or not) eager to forget
But what has the report really told us?
As already suspected, these were not race riots, the majority of rioters convicted were not in gangs. What the panel did find was that nine in ten of the 4,000 plus rioters arrested, were already known to the police. This points to the inefficiency in dealing with reoffenders (an issue already much discussed). They suggest that some of the resources currently being spent on custody should be instead, diverted into supporting effective community sentencing. The accountability, they say, needs to include the local community. This can be done by involving local residents in deciding what projects these reoffenders should work on.
What is the key point here?
Although the majority of those interviewed said they wished to see the rioters appropriately punished, they also expressed their views of the need to provide a structure through which these offenders can come to play a positive role in their society. Communication with the local community is paramount. They need to know that their concerns are being addressed, that there are opportunities for them and their children. But without trust between the community and the authorities there can be none of this.
One in three people interviewed said they thought the police were corrupt; one in four who said they had recent contact with the police expressed their unhappiness with the way they were treated.
This won’t change by increasing the number of police on our streets, or introducing tougher laws to deal with rioters. You can have all the police you like filing up and down Tottenham, that won’t address the issue of getting the local residents to respect or have faith in them. The problem can only be tackled through the building up of trust. For this, the report suggests that the Department for Communities and Local Governments work with local areas to develop better engagement.
But it is not all the fault of police and largely clueless government.
Parents, of course, have the biggest and most important role in developing the character of their children. Whilst the panel point to the work of the Troubled Family Programme that deals with 120,000 disadvantaged families, they reveal that the overlaps of these families with rioter families was limited. They state that the 500,000 ‘forgotten families’ fall under the radar of government authorities and social services. Again this isn’t new. People have spoken for years about the ‘underclass’, the issue is that nothing has been done to address these problems.
Without local programmes targeted at residents, these forgotten families will remain forgotten. The youth needs to be targeted first. Support to teenage mothers is essential; the lack of recourse for struggling young parents feeds into the cycle of deprivation and underachievement in these areas. According to the report, first time mothers under the age of eighteen should be the priority for the Family Nurse Partnership, and eventually this should expand to include all young mothers under the age of twenty.
Working with schools is also paramount. Children are key and working with them at an early age vital. The number of primary school aged children finishing their first years of school without being able to read or write at the correct level is frightful. The panel has suggested that schools be held to account for the performance of the child. It is essential that schools be more transparent about how they deal with children with both behavioural and learning difficulties.
The report has highlighted was has already been obvious to so many. How can it be that half a million families can be forgotten, that deprivation in these areas go ignored? If there is anything good that can come out of the awful events of last August, let it be that these forgotten families are finally remembered.
Read my reaction to the riots in the Huffington Post here: Big Society : Forgotten Society