Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Inequality and the UK Riots

Aoife Ní Lochlainn: Amongst the acres of news coverage devoted to the UK riots, comes an interesting piece of work in the Guardian, ‘Mapping the Riots with Poverty’. Using Indices of Multiple Deprivation which are published by the Department of Communities and Local Government, the researchers mapped poverty and the location of the riots. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the incidents took place in or adjacent to the poorest areas. Elsewhere in the Guardian, Nina Power looks at the riots in the context of child poverty and inequality, writing that Haringey (the borough that includes Tottenham,) has the 4th highest level of child poverty in London. Over at the New Economics Foundation Blog, riot-related discussions centre on inequality and how our ‘materialist economics’ encourages us to work and thus yearn for ‘tat’.


Slí Eile said...

@Aoife thanks for link. This is an important development and one that reflects a complex of factors as well as the impact of social exclusion and poverty.

Paul Hunt said...

This is all a bit restrained. I thought the 'progressive-left' would be having a field day on this - that is, if it had something useful to say and wasn't compromised by trying to defend privilege in the better-rewarded areas of the public sector and to advance universal rights without any responsibility.

These kids may not be into the political and economic minutiae but they can't have missed the message coming from the banking and financial industry thrashing developed economies, MPs fiddling their expenses and Hackgate. The message being that the top levels of business, finance, politics, the police, the media and most of civil society are corrupt, in collusion and on the make - at the expense of everyone else. These kids have decided that they're being screwed, they have bleak futures and they'll never be able to afford all that they desire, so they'll thrash the baubles of the rich and comfortable and grab what they want.

And meshing with this is a sub-culture (with strong and specific ethnic cultural underpinnings) of lone (predominantly female) parents - supported (and incentivised) by the state. Young males (and, increasingly, young females) only find a measure of affiliation, hierarchy, discipline and respect in a gangland culture that is structured around crime and territory.

But, of course, we can't talk about this. It would be 'racist'.

Conor McCabe said...

Actually, Owen jones talks about it with great eloquence and insight in his book, Chavs, and the one thing he points out is that the white working class are part of a class, they are not an ethnic minority. The move to portray the structural deficiencies of modern economic dynamics in terms of race and personal choice is one designed to splinter class consciousness - something it has done with not a little success.

So talk away there, but don't cod yourself iinto thinking that the white working class are another 'race', one subjected to 'racial' discrimination. They are not. They are part of the working class - a class that is being dumped upon with aplomb.

Damian said...

Thank Aoife for highlighting this.

@ Paul - as a former Haringey resident I'm not convinced that your narrative is particularly accurate or insightful.

Haringey, Tottenham and Hackney are hardly the "baubles of the rich". As Diane Abbot the local labour MP was at pains to point out - they were trashing their own communities. They were not thrashing banks and luxury stores - it was local corner shops, cars and furniture stores.

What unites these areas is poverty and lack of access to services – this is not restricted to one particular group or ethnicity of which ther are many – but it is a problem that has been amplified by recent local government cuts to services.

But I guess the idea that these issues could be addressed by greater government intervention and targeted social policies – which if we believe your narrative are probably motivated by privilege and bureaucracy - and probably a step outside the liberal anti-left agenda.

Paul Hunt said...


I bow to your superior local knowledge and experience, but if the 'state' is controlled by capitalism - which in effect it is - I don't think "greater government intervention and targeted social policies" will achieve very much - and might even makes things worse.

What put the 'fear of god' into the police and government is that gang members (who would normally stick to their own territory -"endz", "hoods" or, in the more traditional London patois, "manors" - and scrap, often violently and lethally, among themselves over territory, showing enough 'respect' and the rights to dominate lucrative criminal activities) co-ordinated and targeted the disturbances they kicked off in response to police resources and the disposition of these forces. The "buzz" created attracted the interest, and on occasion encouraged the participation, of on-lookers, who, though less excluded from society than those who initiated the disturbances, find their stake in society and the economy is being eroded inexorably.

That is why the government has delegated Home Secretary May and Work and Pension Secretary Duncan-Smith to report on gang culture by October and why hiring US Robocop Bratton is being considered.

This is 'civil war' between the capitalist state and an excluded sub-culture that it has created and fostered. The classic approach of 'reform and repression' (identified by the late Ralph Milliband, the father of the Labour leader) will be applied and we will all end up worse off.

Rather than criminalising another generation of kids with bleak futures, they should be offered an opportunity to make restitution, to confront and make recompense to their victimes and to return stolen property (in the same way that MPs who 'inadvertently' dipped too greedily in to the funds we provide were able to pay for their excesses without further punishment).

And the chances of this happening....?

Conor McCabe said...

@ Paul Hunt:

"What put the 'fear of god' into the police and government is that gang members (who would normally stick to their own territory -"endz", "hoods" or, in the more traditional London patois, "manors" - and scrap, often violently and lethally, among themselves over territory, showing enough 'respect' and the rights to dominate lucrative criminal activities"

So, is this insight based on your years of on-the-ground- interaction with the people in the areas where the riots sparked off, of your daily routine of working with the people of broadwater farm - or is it from reading the newspapers, watching 'The BIll', and talking to your dinner-party friends?

Mind you, even the newspapers picked up on the occupations of the convicted rioters who were in many cases drawn from the working poor and not from the so-called 'underclass' that the middle class oh so live to discuss over the clinking of wine glasses and the 'ok roight' patiois of a spark-notes education.

The working poor - the millions of people in Britain in menial, low-skilled, service jobs who are experiencing the burden of having to pay for the investment failures of the top one per cent. There is your powder keg.

Paul Hunt said...

I do so love this blog. It is such a fount of political correctness. And one has to 'get down' with the grass roots before one is permitted to make any observation or comment.

This op-ed by Gary Young resonates with my own experience:

In particular this:
"..those who took to the streets last week failed to advance any cause, embrace any ideal or articulate any agenda.

This places them firmly in the context of a weak an ineffectual left that has failed to reinvent and reinvigorate itself in the face of a deep economic crisis. It marks a generational failure. In the absence of any community leadership, viable social movements or memory of collective struggle, the most these political orphans could hope to achieve was private acquisition and social chaos.

The fact that their actions were political does not therefore make them wise. The primary consequences will be greater authoritarianism, more police powers and an emboldened far right."

Do you want the 'powder keg' to blow like this? or do you want to channel the energy and resentment to make changes for the better? It's a simple choice for the so-called 'progressive-left'.

Conor McCabe said...

@ Paul hunt:

"And one has to 'get down' with the grass roots before one is permitted to make any observation or comment."

What a strawman. I didn't say you couldn't comment - I'm saying that your comments are those of a middle-class twat.

Paul Hunt said...

@Conor McCabe,

Thank you for the abuse. Since your comment, presumably, has been moderated, I can take it you're now the official blog categoriser of commenters. Not much point hanging around then. Adios. It was fun while it lasted.

PS. and to sign off I'm being asked to use 'putin' as word verification. Couldn't be more deliciously ironic.

progressive-economy@tasc said...

@All: Admin is currently on leave, so it would be appreciated if commenters could exercise some restraint. @Paul: do come back.

Paul Hunt said...


No worries. I'm more or less giving up on the blog sites anyway. The public debate, in so far as it might have any impact on the formulation of public policy, is being closed down in a number of respects. First, the really 'big decisions' will be made in the corridors of power in Washington, Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Frankfurt. There is little, if anything, we can do to influence these decisions.

Secondly, and associated with this, it appears the Government is keen to establish 'clear blue water', at least in the eyes of those walking the corridors of power, between Ireland, on one side, and the Club Med (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and, now, Cyprus) on the other. Compliance with the programme of structural reforms specified by the Troika will be minimised for fear of provoking popular discontent, widespread inductrial action, etc. It will be steady as she goes. We don't want to give Berlin any excuse to start treating us like they are treating the Greeks and others in Club Med. Minister Hogan will have to do his bit on property taxation, waste management, water industry, etc., but it will be carefully calibrated politically. In any event, the semi-states and representatives of the private sheltered sectors are lobbying furiously behind the scenes. So the 'progressive-left' can rest easy.

Thirdly, it appears clear that a large number of those on the 'progressive-left' are unpersuadable about the benefits of competitive, efficient markets that are properly policed and regulated. The 'triangulation' initially employed by Bill Clinton from 1992, then pursued by Blair and Brown (with other EU social democratic parties following suit) and now being pursued by Barack Obama has played and is playing into the hands of the Neocons. Progressives need to move on from this and not retreat to exclusively statist solutions. This simply vacates the middle progressive and liberal ground for it to be exploited by the right.

Morally, economically, socially and democratically the arguments and the numbers of voters should prevail, but it requires engagement - and not a regurgitation of the tired nostrums and cliches of the past.

But, sadly, moving out of their comfort zone seems to be a bridge too far for too many.

Conor McCabe said...

didn't ask me to come baqck I notice - you just blocked my comments.

cheers progressive.

Maybe if I spouted some right-wing nonsense and then cried about being challenged about it, you'd open your arms to me, yeah?

Thanks Lads. don't worry. I won't be back.

progressive-economy@tasc said...

@Conor: Have just checked - no comments have been blocked. The blog is currently not being moderated .... Admin

Paul Hunt said...

@Conor McCabe,

Please don't go. With your mix of personal abuse and failure to engage with the arguments being advanced you should feel completely at home here.