London Riots: The perspective of Young Londoners, by Sean Illing
“Focusing on the causes of the riots must take precedence; merely preaching about the evils of those who took part will achieve nothing.“
Sean Illing*, 21
*All views expressed in this article are the author’s. IARS accepts no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any views expressed in these articles and will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information or any losses or damages arising from its display or use.
“The recent riots in London and around England were terrible events. However, focusing on the causes of the riots must take precedence; merely preaching about the evils of those who took part will achieve nothing.
It was reported that over half of those who took part were under 18, and there has clearly been an emphasis on the young people that took part. I will therefore be writing with a focus on the reasons why it was particularly a young person’s phenomenon, and what should be done to tackle it.
I feel that the short-term reasons for the riots were the fact that it was the summer holidays, and the murder of Mark Duggan in London by what appears to be an inept policeman. However, these just happened to be the sparks that lit the tinderbox of what was clearly a problem waiting to explode.
Now many commentators will be focusing on the problem of gang culture, the problem of poor parenting, and the ‘youth problem’ in this country as a whole. However, as IARS’ 99% campaign has tried to emphasise, the problems young people face, and their reactions to adversity, are diverse. One thing is certain; from now on, politicians will attempt to overcome this supposed ‘youth problem’. But I hope that they do this differently from the knee-jerk initial reaction to the riots.
One of the underlying reasons, though the coalition government are obviously eager to deny this, is the affect of the cuts on communities up and down the country. Most of the rioters came from the poorest boroughs in London. This is clearly not a coincidence. The main problem stems from disadvantaged young people faced with the prospect of more disadvantages to come. Cuts to policing will not help, as Croydon cannot rely on the Welsh police in the long-term. The government needs to take a more sensible view of cuts, and how they will affect people at ground level.
Another problem, which Tony Blair has been quick to point out, was that of youth disaffection, which has been a problem since long before Blair’s premiership. The political system needs to enable young people to take part. A Liberal Democrat election pledge has long been the lowering of the voting age to 16; perhaps if this was done, more young people would feel that they were given a say in contemporary society. Citizenship lessons need to be taught properly, and approached as a real subject. And children should learn about politics from an early age, with a focus on how education benefits the community as well as themselves. Politicians can do a lot more to enfranchise young people, rather than merely releasing soundbites for party political purposes.
Michael Gove recently released a statement saying that the number of pupils who went to Oxbridge from each school should be included in the league tables. This is typical Tory elitism; rather than focusing on improving the education of the poor, they focus on the schools which are inevitably richer; the majority of Oxbridge students come from independent schools, with a disproportionate number attending Eton and Westminster (David Cameron’s and Nick Clegg’s respective schools). Gove’s solutions are totally wrong: more basic problems should be countered first.
And finally, the sentencing backlash has created more problems than it has rectified. Prison sentences are expensive and ineffective. Rehabilitation is key. What is worse is that the prison sentences have been grossly disproportionate; one girl was imprisoned for wearing a pair of stolen shorts a friend gave her. I hope that the immediate reaction to the riots is not a blueprint for the long-term reaction, as disproportionate sentences will not be helping anyone.
The riots were terrible events, scarring the lives of many people, and even taking some as well. I hope that lessons can be learned from the riots, and that things change in the future. London has always been known as a tolerant city, and I hope this reputation continues.”