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Commenting upon last year's riots, Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children said:
As we celebrate the shining achievements of so many British athletes in London 2012, the disorders of last August seem a nightmarish memory. How is it possible that two such different Augusts, two such opposing images of modern Britain, could be separated by only twelve months?
August 2011 saw images of looting and arson, of police failing to quell violent chaos, of politicians hesitating before resorting to knee-jerk reactions to complex problems. The riots generated a sense of a nation looking on in fear, anger and disbelief as its authorities struggled to contain a sudden boiling over of determined lawlessness.
The actions of those that took part in the riots cannot be justified. They can, however, be understood, if we ask ourselves what took hold and caused the riots in the first place.
Despite much debate and scrutiny of the precise factors that fuelled the riots, as a nation we are still unsure of how they began. Just as magistrates were handing down sentences in conveyor-belt courts, the snap judgements and easy solutions of commentators equally failed to understand the underlying issues. Most commentary stemmed from a 'them and us' mentality, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes antagonistic. Others blamed the riots upon a bitter history of resentment toward the police, an obsession with consumerism or mere ‘criminality pure and simple’.
With the passage of time, more emphasis has been placed on the broader causes behind the riots: namely, that a majority of those who took part in the riots did so because of a general sense of there being nothing left to lose.
That sense of hopelessness has often been obscured by judgements about previous criminality. If many rioters had previous convictions, and indeed have had subsequent post-riot convictions, we should be asking the reasons for their criminal background. Not crime for crime's sake, but crime because of a lack of positive opportunity to achieve and earn.
In the report published in March, ‘After the Riots’, the Riots Communities and Victims Panel rightly suggested that when people feel they have no reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences can be devastating; bearing in mind the general characteristics of those that took part in the riots, this statement is difficult to dispute.
Indeed, the report notes a correlation between rioting and deprived or difficult backgrounds, with 70% of those brought before the courts living in the 30% of the most deprived postcodes in the country whilst 46% (compared to a 12% national average) were living in poverty.
In addition, educational problems were often prevalent in a sizable number of rioters – with 66% having special educational need; 30% being described as persistently absent from school; and only 11% (compared to a national average of 53%) having achieved 5 A*-C GCSE’s including English and Maths. Further, the report by the Riots Communities and Victims Panel also states that 36% of juveniles brought before the courts had been excluded from school at least once during 2009/10.
Faced with so many challenges, growing a sense of pride in achievement will likely seem a distant prospect - though the Olympics have shown us all that pride in achievement are possible where natural gifts are recognised and honed, whatever the background of the athlete.
We all want, as a nation, never to see our streets return to the blazing chaos of 2011. So one year on, local and national governments should focus again on how best to support the “forgotten families”, those families struggling, just as much as they were last year, to keep troubled youngsters on the straight and narrow and find them opportunities to achieve more.
Early intervention is key, recognising the signs of trouble before they become trouble. For instance, findings from the Foundation Stage Profile of children as they start school shows that the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has closed by 3% in the last three years as a result of better early years support, including Sure Start.
The financial costs of better early intervention are just as encouraging; Graham Allen MP’s second report, ‘Early Intervention: Smart Investment, Massive Savings’ highlights this point when it says that the investment benefit-to-cost ratio for Early Intervention data in the US suggests that £40 million invested in positive parenting interventions could save £400 million over a 15-year period.
Of course, investment in the necessary support and early intervention needed represents a daunting cost in a struggling economy, but without it, we will only store up far heavier costs – human and economic – for generations yet to come. Rather than keeping alive the spirit of August 2012, we will continue to fear the shadow of August 2011, and its repetition.
Notes to Editors
4Children is the national charity all about children and families. We have spearheaded a joined-up, integrated approach to children’s services and work with a wide range of partners around the country to ensure children and families have access to the services and support they need in their communities. We run Sure Start Children’s Centres as well as family and youth services across Britain.
We develop, influence and shape national policy on all aspects of the lives of children, young people and families. As the Government’s strategic partner for early years and childcare we have a crucial role in co-producing policy with the Department of Education and representing the sector’s views and experiences. Our national campaigns, like Give Me Strength, change policy and practice and put the needs of children and families on the political and policy agenda.
For more information visit www.4children.org.uk
For further information please contact Mark Bennett (email@example.com / 07946217388 / 0796727388 / 07833098911)