Analysis: After the riots

Why did the riots happen and what is the best way to respond to them? Third Sector reporters asked 14 voluntary sector leaders for their views on key social policy dilemmas

Rioting took place in cities across the country
Rioting took place in cities across the country

Young people with chaotic lives; exclusion from education and employment; drug and gang culture providing a substitute for community and family support; oppressive or unrealistic responses by the police and courts; impending restrictions on benefits; and a culture of materialism and greed set by the MPs' expenses scandal and bankers' bonuses.

These are the main elements in a complex web of factors that, according to 14 charities working in the relevant areas, may have played a part in the recent riots in England and need to be addressed if the likelihood of recurring disorder is to be minimised. The responses are summarised on the page opposite.

A consistent message is that criminality must be punished but the riots are also a welfare issue and should lead to changes in employment, family and criminal justice policy. Early intervention and intensive support of vulnerable families and alienated young people is often mentioned.

Other proposals from the charities are the decriminalisation of drug possession, greater use of restorative justice, the encouragement of localism and community activism and the reversal of plans to cap benefits, including housing benefit, and cut childcare tax credits.

Some voluntary organisations have already written to the Office for Civil Society, which is holding a meeting with sector leaders early in September to discuss how the sector can help to rebuild communities and develop policy changes.

Others are preparing submissions to the inquiry into the riots that the Government is planning to set up.

- See editorial


Criminal justice and police relationsCRIMINAL JUSTICE AND POLICE RELATIONS:

- Andrew Neilson, campaigns director, Howard League for Penal Reform

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

There is no easy answer, but some policies are not helping - for example, putting a lot of conditions on young people when they are released. Young people start relying on their own bonds, such as gangs

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

The system is not getting to the bottom of the problem: the focus is solely on sending young people to prison. There's a plethora of welfare issues, such as parents not staying together, drug taking in the family or abuse in the home. The 'hard justice' response has not worked.

- Paul McDowell, chief executive, Nacro

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

The best way to divert young people from crime is to wrap appropriate services around them, including education and training, help in seeking employment, housing provision and mentoring. Their behaviour must also be appropriately challenged.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

The best way to divert young people from crime is to wrap appropriate services around them, including education and training, help in seeking employment, housing provision and mentoring. Their behaviour must also be appropriately challenged.


 

Youth work and gang cultureYOUTH WORK AND GANG CULTURE

- Rob Owen, chief executive, St Giles Trust

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

The reasons are a complex mix of personal, environmental and social factors. Many young people feel they have no investment in society. They are locked out of employment and higher education, their circumstances compounded by poverty.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

You can't blame one government - this goes back three generations. People feel unfairly treated, alienated and angry. There are also media issues about young people being demonised.

- Debbie Pippard, head of programmes, Barrow Cadbury Trust

 

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

A relatively small number of extremely chaotic, excluded young people are not on the radar of programmes designed to help people get back into work. We need more intelligent commissioning of services to target those who are most in need.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

There needs to be early action for families with young children, and a greater emphasis on restorative justice - it sends a powerful message when people are asked to put right what they've done wrong. It helps the community to see them righting wrongs.


 

Family policy and parentingFAMILY POLICY AND PARENTING

- Rhian Beynon, head of policy and campaigns, Family Action

 

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

One policy failing the family-friendly test is the proposed benefit cap: it could discourage two adults from forming a stable household, because they could receive more help if they remained living separately.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

There are a lot of very vulnerable families who deserve our assistance. The benefit cap needs to be axed and government needs to have more early intervention policies, spotting families as soon as they have problems. Most of the work is crisis intervention at the moment.

- Caroline Davey, director of policy, Gingerbread

 

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

Successive governments have required single parents to seek work when their child reaches an increasingly young age - soon to be five. Cuts to childcare tax credits make it harder to make work pay.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

The government must invest more in support for childcare costs to enable single parents to work and lift their families out of poverty. More must be done to address the gaps in childcare/youth provision for the 11 to 14 age group, and to support parents to balance work and parenting.


 

Drugs and alcohol policyDRUGS AND ALCOHOL POLICY

- Niamh Eastwood, acting executive director, Release

 

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

The relationship between young people and the police is breaking down because members of ethnic minority groups and poorer communities are more likely to be searched for drugs and get a criminal record than the white middle class.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

The decriminalisation of drug possession is an obvious step. Young professionals are often the most likely to possess drugs, but are not the ones searched or the ones who get a criminal record. It would free up a lot of police time and remove barriers between young people and the police.

- Tony France, partnerships manager, Family Focus, Gloucester

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

The approach to drugs services does not involve the family in the recovery process enough. Young people often do not have meaningful involvement in their communities, so find collective meaning in the use of drugs. 

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

Drugs services need to be more family-oriented - there is evidence that where parents or children are involved, the recovery process is more successful. Young people should have more of a say in the development of their communities - for example, the way resources are used.

 


Housing, poverty and welfareHOUSING, PROPERTY AND WELFARE

 

- Lola Barrett, chief executive, Grenfell Housing

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

People in social housing struggle to find work because they can only live in one area - the social housing market doesn't allow them to move. It leads to frustration and is partly why people don't feel they have a stake in their community. 

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

Make it as easy for people in social housing to move around as for those renting privately. The housing benefit cap, due in 2013, must be raised and made more flexible. Forcing people out of their homes will cause civil unrest - ghettoisation will make repeated disturbances more likely.

- Flo Betts, financial inclusion manager, Birmingham Citizens Advice Bureau

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

 Welfare changes, such as proposed cuts to Employment Support Allowance and housing benefit, are making people feel uneasy. There is also a lack of understanding about how to manage money.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

The problem of young people not being in employment, education or training needs to be acknowledged - people leave education and feel they have hit a brick wall. The teaching agenda in schools must cover the value of money and how to manage it.


 

Education and employmentEDUCATION AND POLICY

- Mamading Ceesay, chief strategy officer, London Creative Labs

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

The reasons are a lack of economic participation and low career aspirations. When vacancies are few, job centres provide poor service. Community development schemes treat beneficiaries as passive subjects.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

Open up job centres to refer unemployed people to groups providing opportunities to set up their own business; scale up the role of groups that provide career coaching and business support; and rethink the new Enterprise Allowance policy to allow access to start-up capital.

- Martina Milburn, chief executive, Prince's Trust

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

A lot of young people have no hope or aspiration. Logic tells us they have no stake in their community and, when things happen, they don't think - or care - about the consequences.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

The government should push schools to invest more in extra-curricular activities such as Scouts, Guides, Cadets and projects by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. There should be more encouragement for adults to volunteer, so that more of these services can be run.


 

Community cohesionCOMMUNITY COHESION

- Steve Wyler, chief executive, Locality

People have seen bankers' bonuses and MPs being fraudulent with their expenses and it is seen as acceptable to be greedy. Widening social divisions and a dominant culture of materialism are a toxic combination.

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

Communities should be allowed to take more control, so they can build on the momentum of localism and community activism. They should also be used to develop a dialogue in some areas, to bring together community leaders and those people who haven't had a voice. 

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

Communities should be allowed to take more control, so they can build on the momentum of localism and community activism. They should also be used to develop a dialogue in some areas, to bring together community leaders and those people who haven't had a voice.

- Joy Warmington, chief executive, Brap, Birmingham

WHAT WERE THE CAUSES?

We have seen disadvantage, dispossession and massive inequality flourish without any messages of hope about jobs, education, or opportunities. Hopelessness can rapidly ignite into anger, despair and destructiveness.                                 

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

There was never an alternative to tough sentences, but will people be better able to enter mainstream society when they emerge from custody? The policies we are likely to see will be piecemeal and partial, a result of fear rather than a source of hope.

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