Panic On The Streets Of London

Posted on August 11, 2011


words by Robert Pollard 

photography by Luke Chase 

After a week of riots across England that have caused untold distress for many people, it seems wholly necessary for the government to carry out a full exploration into the factors that triggered the horrendous scenes. Whilst the actions of the looters have been despicable, to write the events of this week off as ‘wanton criminality’ may well be dangerous. Riots on the scale we have seen seldom happen for no reason, and politicians need to look at the causes and begin to address the situation.

Although it would be foolish to claim that the people involved in the riots had a clear political agenda and took action to send a specific message to politicians; it is evident that there are a number of socioeconomic issues that have given rise to such vile events. David Cameron’s assertion that these riots are ‘not about inequality’ seems woefully inaccurate and until a root and branch investigation is carried out at government level we will find it difficult to resolve the problem longterm. The police struggled to deal with the violence and now our politicians are struggling to understand the causes of it.

My opinion is that we are failing many of our young people in this country and the chaos that ensued this week has been a long time coming. There is strong evidence to suggest that the most unequal societies are often the most violent and, the fact is, we live in a very unequal society. Since the 1970’s the gap between the rich and poor has been growing at an alarming rate and we now find ourselves in the ludicrous situation whereby the richest 1% of British people own 20% of all available wealth, whilst the 50% at the bottom own 7%. This disproportionate spread of resources brings immeasurable difficulties for the young people who find themselves at the bottom of the pile, leading to anger and frustration at the futility of their existence, with little hope and few prospects. it would seem the recent cuts in spending have been the tipping point in what was already a precarious situation.

When young people feel downtrodden and repressed they can become destructive, seeing little point in behaving well when society offers them so little. Youth unemployment is at a record high, the idea of ever going to university has become unattainable for many thanks to the unprecedented hike in fees and services for young people are being destroyed. These factors have created an extremely difficult set of circumstances that disadvantaged young people are struggling to overcome, becoming increasingly disaffected and disenchanted, trapped in a poverty cycle that is hard to break.

Clearly, not all young people suffering difficult circumstances resort to the kind of brutality we have witnessed in the last few days, in fact, most are well-behaved, conscientious individuals with morals and values. But whilst I deplore the violence that has terrorized our city centres, I cannot help but want to understand the causes in order to achieve harmony in the future and my concern is that politicians are not ready to face up to the challenge of understanding where this has come from. The noises emanating from Mr Cameron’s office are not good. At a time when progressive thinking is required to make radical changes, tired rhetoric claiming young people are ‘sick’ seems, not only distasteful, but unhelpful. It is time we acknowledged the absurd gap between the rich and the poor and started to create a fairer and more balanced society to avoid the social injustices that anger people to the point of revolt.

We are also a society obsessed with consumerism, relentlessly pursuing the latest electronic devices and designer labels. This widespread obsession creates pressures to conform and when it cannot be achieved it causes a feeling disillusionment for those who must go without. Material goods have come to symbolise a person’s status, and while the rich can maintain a lifestyle of mass consumption, the poor look on longingly feeling less fortunate and secure. Again, this kind of pressure can have severe effects, and when you see looters emerging from shops with widescreen televisions and new trainers it seems perfectly logical that this is an overt manifestation of their material desires. Capitalism holds no love for those without wealth.

The factors cited here are by no means the only possible reasons for the chaos, nor are they an attempt to condone the mindless violence we have seen, rather, they seek to begin explaining how on earth we have found ourselves in this crazy situation. The behavior of the rioters has been shocking, targeting small family businesses and vulnerable people with acts of violence, theft and arson which no one could legitimately describe as just. However, when social unrest manifests itself on a mass scale, one must seek to determine the origins in an attempt to make changes that will benefit everyone in the future. But whilst the riots have been rightly condemned for the appalling nature of the violence that defined them, the political factors that triggered them are yet to be discussed in any depth or with any intelligence. Until this country accepts that there are underlying issues which are causing such a high level of social tension, events like these will continue. It is time for politicians across the political spectrum to engage in a full and frank debate that seeks to iron out the social injustices that are creating a climate of anger, fear and uncertainty for the less fortunate members of society. Until then, we can expect a recurrence of the events that have brought misery on so many innocent people.

Posted in: Politics