Last week saw the worst riots this country has seen for decades. The worst hit areas in London, Birmingham and Manchester are still struggling to get back to normal after the trouble. We have all seen the pictures of the burnt down businesses, the footage of people shamelessly looting and we have read countless interviews with victims who have lost everything.
We have had peace on the streets for a week now but arguments are raging between the political parties and the police. The debate over why this happened and what can be done will continue for months to come.
When our Prime Minister, David Cameron finally came back to London from his holiday (after two consecutive nights of rioting in the capital) he needed to appear to still be in control. Our streets were flooded with police in riot vans which undoubtedly acted as a severe deterrent for any further disturbances. Mr Cameron has since however come out with countless headline grabbing gimmicks which he believes will discourage this behaviour and appease the increasingly angry British public.
I fear though that his ideas do not go to the root of the problem and will not help the youth of our communities feel included. It is all very well to name and shame offenders and to enforce harsh punishments but will this be enough to stop people being angry with their place in society. In this time of austerity we have seen cuts across the board. Community projects up and down the country have had their budgets cut. It’s a cliche I know but many teenagers do not have anything to do in their community.
The government are refusing to step down with their planned cuts to police budgets. Many senior figures have called for a rethink in the wake of the riots. I worry how we would cope with similar disturbances in future with less police on the streets.
A lot has been made of the proposals to cut the benefits of offenders and to even evict offenders from social housing. I fail to see what this is going to solve. The rioters were telling us they had no money, no place in society. Taking even more away from them is going to breed even more disrespect for society. Yes, they need to be punished but they also need to be taught that they can be part of the communities they live in and to learn respect for that community. That cannot happen if they are forced to leave their homes. Prince Charles had the message exactly right today when he visited affected areas in London. He said that he felt the gang problem was down to a sense of “not belonging”. We need people to work within their communities. Give them something to be proud of and they won’t want to wreck it.
David Cameron has also been keen to highlight the role that social networks played during the riots. It is widely known that groups used twitter, facebook and blackberry messenger to organise the riots. His idea to cut social network access at times of troubles though really hasn’t been thought through. At the height of the troubles I had my sister and niece visiting from Bristol. I was using twitter constantly to ensure we were safe in Leyton and to check my friends elsewhere were safe. It was an invaluable tool. I was following the tweets of my local MP who was being kept up to date with developments. News channels, the Met Police, and London Fire Brigade were also updating the public with essential information. If we lost that in future we would lose the tools that technology has given us.
We also cannot forget how important social networks have been since the riots. Within hours there was a twitter account organising clean-up teams in the worst hit areas. Hundreds of people took to the streets with their brooms to clear up the mess that had been left behind.
We can not afford to get the response to this wrong. We risk further trouble in the future and further alienating the youth of society. I fear David Cameron is so far coming up with the wrong ideas. He needs to listen to what others are telling him, including the people of the troubled communities.