London Riots: One Year Later

Photo: heardinlondon on Flickr
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According to the report by Russia today, Londoners they interviewed say they see little change, one year after riots and looting shook the capital and spread to Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. It was the worst situation of civil unrest since the early 1980s.

There were the explosive scenes of rioting, looting and disorder on the streets in towns and cities in England last August. Shops and warehouses were attacked and torched by mobs of youths,adults and even children. By the time David Cameron decided to return from his Summer vacation, 5 people had died. It took days for police in towns and cities across the country to establish control, and a recent survey suggests police officers caught up in the riots were woefully outnumbered, leaving many fearing for their lives. Over 3,000 arrests were made, including about 700 children, aged between 10 and 17 years old, who appeared in court for their part in the troubles. Some were detained during the riots, others were identified from CCTV and other sources, and several were handed over by their own parents or family members. Over 200 of the juvenile offenders were sent to detention centres. The average sentence duration for this age group was 8 months. Adult offenders, who appeared to represent the majority of the rioters in TV and video coverage, faced tougher sentencing and fines. There is now an app to help identify about 3,000 remaining suspects.

A year on and, on the surface, all is well. Damaged buildings have been rebuilt or boarded up, and people are going about their business again. But areas like Tottenham, where the riots started, are still troubled – and the underlying issues which caused the riots remain unresolved.

Tottenham’s MP, David Lamy says his community pulled together in the aftermath – but admits trouble could break out again.

“Unemployment is up, it’s also true to say that businesses on the high road are struggling, and many of them had very poor payments under the riot damages act that was made to assist them. We’re in a double-dip recession – that hits the poorest communities hardest; so it’s one of those situations where, yes, we must be positive and hopeful, but it’s a fragile situation for us here.”

In the last year, numerous studies have been conducted into why the unrest became so intense, and so widespread, yet young people have been conspicuously absent from the debate. Despite the student protests which began in late 2010 and resurfaced briefly in 2011, it’s generally agreed that the spark which ignited the unrest was anger over the fatal shooting by police of Tottenham man Mark Duggan. That spark ignited a powder keg of disadvantage, boredom, and a dysfunctional relationship with the police. Social justice campaigner Lee Jasper says this negative relationship issue has not been addressed and a resurgence of events similar to those witnessed last year are inevitable under the current circumstances:

“Black unemployment is going up. Generally youth unemployment is going up in the country, we’re seeing closure after closure of youth facilities and services, school services are being cut. And I think all of that, and this more aggressive, what’s called ‘total policing’ – which amounts to zero tolerance policing – means that it’s only a matter of time. Not so much if, but when.”

There are around 1.5 million youth in the UK aged between 16 and 24 who are not working, studying, or training. That figure represents more than 20% of all young adults in Britain. Of these, over a quarter of a million are long-term unemployed: jobless for a year or longer.

In Brixton, 21 year-old Chelsea Houlker, Editor of Live Magazine, claims the riots have strengthened already negative perceptions of young people, but points out that there are many trying to make a difference..

“The nation is constantly told young people lead lazy, easy, lives: that we binge drink, we’re materialistic, our exams are easy, and we’re self-destructive. The riots ingrained these perceptions even more.”

“After 2011’s student protests and the riots, many have experienced a determination to make our country better and to give young people a voice. Despite being told every day about the lack of jobs, students are striving to do well, while others are setting up social enterprises or volunteering in their community.”

In the aftermath of the violence, communities banded together to clear up their streets. But many accuse the government not only of ignoring the root causes, but making problems worse for working class families. Oxfam says the poorest 10% of society will suffer 13 times more from biting austerity cuts as the richest tenth. By 2015, the number of children living in poverty in Britain is expected to reach 3 million. With 56% of young black men in Britain unemployed, people in places like riot-hit Hackney like to think it won’t happen again, but are aware that it could.

“Cuts, and jobs, if they were to improve on that, and give something for the youth to do to keep them busy, then things would be better,” said a woman from Hackney district.

“It’s going get worse. I hope it won’t, but I think it will. They need to address the work situation, and they’re kicking people off benefits as well, so I think that needs to be looked at. They’re cutting back on the poorest in society,” said another woman.

“I don’t know about it happening again in quite the same way, but I don’t think anything’s been addressed – not in this area anyway,” added another Hackney resident.

Some of the businesses on Tottenham’s high street say they still have not received adequate compensation, but the government says the vast majority of claims have finally now been settled.

Meanwhile, Haringey Council has revealed that 5,000 jobs could be created under its plans to revitalise Tottenham. The plan, which is the council’s vision for the area until 2025, also involves building 10,000 new homes by 2025.

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