Enjoying the riots

The young people who embarked on a smash and burn spree in England recently enjoyed what they did. At last they had found a way of making themselves heard. Reporters and analysts who tried to listen and understand discovered that for the first time some of them had been able to break out of the small circumscribed housing estates which they feared to leave.

Frustrated by their lack of education and the impossibility of getting work they had fallen prey to gang leaders and they had to obeyed the rules. If they strayed into other gang’s territory they were liable to be attacked. Violence was all around them; it was part of life “like getting out of bed in the morning or smoking a cigarette.”

Commentators say the politicians had no idea what was going on. “They live in a bubble in Whitehall” cut off from the reality of the deprived areas. All the prime minister could come out with was a condemnation of the young people as “criminals.” Of course, what they did was criminal but why did they do it?

The government response was to saturate the streets with police. But to the young “criminals” the police are part of the problem. They are the enemy and once the youth saw they had outnumbered the police they really enjoyed themselves expanding the riots.

Now, hundreds of these young people are under arrest and will be tried and sentenced. But there will be an intense debate across the country as to “what went wrong.” Britain is a competitive society. If you are born fortunate to have a good education in a private school you will almost certainly find your way in life. If you are clever and hardworking and born into a less privileged class you can still succeed.

But if you are born into a family where the parents don’t have work or you have only a single parent and you go to a poor standard state school you may well end up saying, “what’s the point? Why should I bother?”

Former governments have tried to compensate by providing social services and facilities to occupy and motivate such young people but the present government has cut back on social spending to try to lower the debt.

It is unbelievably short-sighted to sneer at the British and say it could not happen here. Most things – both good and bad – that happen in developed countries are likely to also happen in developing ones. We are all influenced by each other in our global village. What we can do is work on policies that provide hope for young people and that means, among other things, good education and the opportunities to work and earn a living.

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Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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