The Riots Revisited

It feels like so long ago the streets of London were afire, people smashed shop windows without fear of reprise, and for a day or two it looked as if it might never end. It was only a year ago. David Starkey hasn’t shut up about how it was ‘black culture’ that was to blame. So I’ll put in my two pennies.

The thing that frustrates me about Starkey is that as a historian, it’s his job to look deeper than the surface to find out the truth, yet when it comes to the riots he has no interest in any theories beyond skin colour. He point-blank refuses to go beyond the surface, choosing instead to let his prejudice take over rather than the analytical historian he is famed to be.

It doesn’t even take that much effort. The main three areas in London that I can think of that were affected were Croydon, Tottenham (in the borough of Haringey) and Enfield. Outside of London, it was Manchester. Firstly, take a look at this diagram of London wards and out-of-work benefit recipients, from 2009:

Out of work benefit recipients by ward from poverty.org

Croydon, at the bottom, isn’t so bad – or wasn’t, in 2009. But Enfield and Haringey quite clearly has had a ‘problem’ with benefit recipients who are out of work. If you don’t believe me, check this picture of London boroughs. This map is from Poverty.Org’s Poverty in London 2009 PDF.
So what does it show? Put simply, these are areas where a large percent of the population are unemployed. No government wants to rule over a population of largely unemployed people – it means they have spare time, they are at risk from mental health issues, and they have no money to spend and are therefore excluded from the economy at large. Bored poor people. In desperate times, people take desperate measures and I’m not sure I blame them.

Secondly: If – and this is a big if – the rioters were primarily of black ethnicity, it is not hard to see why. Over at the poverty site, someone has helpfully collated information regarding low income and ethnicity. They found that two fifths of people from ethnic minorities live in low-income households, and that the proportion of people who live in low-income households is fifty per cent for black people. Fifty percent! That’s a shocking amount, and much higher than the twenty per cent it is for white people.

What is really interesting is that this didn’t just happen overnight. London is the most concentrated place in the UK for inequality in income, and it’s been this way for many years – riots on this scale have not been seen for many years either. What I would propose is that the riots were borne out of something much more complex than simply ‘being poor’ or living in poor areas. I think it would have happened under a Labour government, too, actually. But why? I look to the opiate of the masses: Television – or the media at large. I’m not saying ‘the meeja’ is entirely to blame, but its one of a combination of factors. Never before have such large swathes of the ‘have-nots’ been painfully aware of the ‘haves’ and their lifestyles. The poor are told by the government that they must work harder to get what they want, yet every Saturday they see a new rags-to-riches story, achieved with minimal effort. Every year, some hapless nobody is propelled into the limelight to become a pop singer – they get a fast-track ticket to celebrity, fame, and all the trappings of that lifestyle. After around a decade of this, does anybody watch and think it could be them – or honestly believe that hard work brings true reward?

As a society, we make a show of having money, of being able to participate in the economy at a certain level – computers, iPhones and so on are all now necessities. We talk about youth learning responsibility as they grow up, yet the government cut the funding from youth centres whose purpose was pretty much that – give them something to do in their spare time, teach them skills and other things that aren’t taught in school.

It’s not, as some may think, absolute poverty. It’s relative poverty – relative to others in the UK these have-nots are poor. And relative to reality TV so often shoved down their throats, they work hard and they suffer poverty, just like the people on the TV do. Yet unlike those on TV, after years of this, they are still no closer to achieving their dreams. I hear so much (particularly from government quarters) about aspirational poverty – ‘the people’ are lacking in aspiration. They are lazy and feckless. They don’t want to do anything. I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as that. I think they have aspiration, energy, and drive – but no resources or resource-management to deal with it. They want to do things, but their options are dwindling evermore. Wouldn’t you be angry too?

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About A Girl
Mostly writes on Half The World Is Watching. She is interested in and writes about feminist issues, politics and activism. An 80s child at heart, she loves old things, computer games, and keeping up with the development of social media.

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