Thursday, 18 August 2011

Riots Mixture of Poverty, Unemployment and 'Me-First' Culture

By Ben Aulakh

The Labour leader Ed Miliband has blamed a ‘me-first, take what you can’ culture for the violence which swept many of the country’s city’s last week.

In a speech, given at Mr Miliband’s old comprehensive, Haverstock School in Chalk Farm, he cited the lack of example set by the country’s elite as a root cause of the unrest.

He said, “It’s not the first time we have seen this me first, take what you can culture; the bankers who took millions while destroying people’s savings, the MP’s who fiddled their expenses, the people who hacked phones to get stories, all are greedy selfish and immoral.

“Those who talk about the sick behaviours of those without power should start talking about the sick behaviour of those with power, because what role models have really been provided by the elites in Britain in the last few decades.”

“Children’s ideas of right and wrong do not just come from their parents, and we cannot honestly say that the greed, selfishness and irresponsibility that we have seen has been confined to the looters, or even their parents.”

Mr Miliband also pointed to the lack of opportunity in some sections of British society as another root cause of the violence.

“People from comfortable backgrounds took part in the riots, so lack of opportunity cannot explain all of what happened, but just because it can’t explain everything, does not mean it cannot explain anything.”

The latest figures on youth unemployment show that around 30 per cent of men between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed, with around 20 to 25 per cent of young women also out of work.

Figures released by the Institute for Public Policy research show that youth unemployment has risen sharply since 2009.

Furthermore a decade ago roughly one in ten of 18-24 year olds had been unemployed for a year; it is now one in four, and the figure is even higher still among young men. 

Matt Cavanagh, Associate Director of Migration Policy for the IPPR says that a mixture of boredom among young people, as well as diminishing education and employment opportunities have provided fuel for the recent wave of violence.

He said, “Surveys of young people find 8 in 10 saying they have little to do outside school, and no one is surprised when youth anti-social behaviour and petty crime increase during the long summer holidays.

“So how surprised can we be when the same young people provide the foot soldiers for a riot?”
Research has shown a link between youth unemployment and the riots.

Mr Cavanagh also cited economic factors such as the increase in tuition fees, funding for colleges and skills training being cut, and the Education Maintenance Allowance being abolished as the most significant social factors behind the violence.

He added, “Unemployment is not an excuse, but a powerful message would be sent send by ministers if they announced a guaranteed job at the minimum wage for all young people who have been out of work for a year.”

Research carried out by the IPPR has also suggested s strong correlation between youth unemployment, poverty, and the areas where violence took place.

The number of young people unemployed in areas where there was rioting was 2 to 3 times higher than the average number of jobless among the rest of the population.

Similarly, more than 80 per cent of young people in the areas worst affected by the unrest only had the most basic educational qualification, an NVQ 1.

The research also showed that 38 per cent of London’s children are living in poverty, 8 per cent more than the national average of 30 per cent.

The data’ authors added, “In considering the impact of child poverty in particular areas, we see substantially higher numbers of children living in poverty in the areas where riots took place compared to the UK average.

“Youth unemployment is not an excuse for looting, but we cannot ignore the fact that it is high in the places where the riots took place.”

“Child poverty rates in local authorities where riots flared are stubbornly high. While poverty is no excuse for criminality, it places additional pressure on families not only to make ends meet but also to spend time together.” 

Photographs from Christian Guthier/

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