Everyone needs a stake in society

MaeveSherlock-2-4x3.jpgBaroness Maeve Sherlock was a member of the Riots, Communities & Victims Panel and is a backbench Labour peer in the House of Lords

Later today, the Lords’ debates After the Riots:  the final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel. I was Labour’s nominee on the cross-party panel, which was set up to look at what happened and why, and what could be done to prevent future disorder.  In March 2012 we delivered our final report to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Ed Miliband. I tabled the debate for two reasons: to make sure we learn the lessons of the shocking events of August 2011; and to press the Government to publish its response to the report, of which, two months on, there not even a possible date for publication.

The panel toured the country, visiting the sites where serious disturbances happened.  We gathered lots of facts: up to 15,000 individuals actively participated, with countless more bystanders. 5,000 crimes recorded. Five people died. An estimated cost of £0.5bn.

We met many victims, including people seriously traumatised by what had happened, who lost all they owned as they fled their homes in the middle of the night into a riot. People whose small businesses never recovered.  We met a great many people anxious about the future, especially young people. Everywhere we went we heard their fears: no jobs, no apprenticeships, no opportunities, no hope. They talked of cuts to youth services, the rise in university fees or the loss of the Educational Maintenance Allowance.

I was also very struck by finding out more about those who rioted – not, of course, to excuse, but to understand. The standout fact is that most rioters were young men. (Arguably a historical truth as well as a current one.) A quarter were under 18, some three-quarters under 25.  70% of those arrested came from the 30% most deprived areas.  Most had poor academic records. The under 18s were much more likely to have special educational needs, to be persistently absent from school, to be living in the very poorest areas. The news reports of the millionaires’ daughter or the middle class dancer were highly atypical.  That’s why they were news, I guess.  

We met some of the young men in prison for riot-related offences whose memories are also with me: the one who seemed so nonchalant; the one who was on suicide watch; the one who had actually had a job and assumed he could just get another when he got out; most of all, the one who said that when he got to prison, someone had asked him what he wanted to do with his life, a memorable event because it was the first time it had ever happened. 

Inevitably we concluded there was no single cause and so there can be no single solution. But there is a top line message: everyone needs a stake in society. Not rocket science, I know, but important truths rarely are.

We made lots of recommendations to address the underlying problems. Like how to stop young people leaving school unable to read. How to avoid young jobless people being parked long-term on the Work Programme by giving them a job guarantee. How to support the half million ‘forgotten families’ who won’t be touched by the Government’s Problem Families programme because things aren’t bad enough. Yet. And we wrote about the problems of the criminal justice system and the lack of confidence in the police. 

But most of all, we need to remember what has happened to prevent it happening again. To learn the lessons.  And we must press the Government to respond and act, particularly to start focusing now on jobs and opportunities for young people.

We need to give everyone a stake in our society. Because they deserve it. And because I don’t want to be asked to serve on a future Riots Panel. 

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