Monday, 15 August 2011

England Calling

I have been asked to try and explain some of the reasons behind the recent violence and troubles in England which flared up last week has shaken England to its core. So here are some of my views and thoughts.

England has never been free of public disorder in any corner of the land and it is not rare for police to be in numbers in the major city centers at various times of the week and year, normally to help subdue any trouble caused by drunks fighting, football matches and the odd out of control demonstration. But as a rule civil unrest is largely unheard of. 
The riots in Toxteth and Brixton in the late 70's and  the miners strike of the 80's are images and memories many people have and they were a result of government decisions for the country as were unrest and dissatisfaction that followed. They were sad times and bloody times but as a country we got through them.
In recent times there has been a change in society, behaviour and attitude from all ages. It is easy to blame parents, the media, schools, the police, government or anyone else but at the end of the day everything in England in my opinion is the result of the recent show of civil unrest.
I come from a small town of 25,000 people. It is a small country town, nothing special, it has a market and a high street. The town is near some larger cities and so is called a dormitory town as people only live and sleep there and work elsewhere. The main factories are closing, the local industry of quarrying is scaling down and so there is little prospect for the youth. 
I used to run one of the towns supermarkets and was constantly dealing with rude, bad mannered youths, drunken teenagers, drug addicts, rude adults and so I was often at the sharp end of sorting them out, dealing with threats and abuse. The local police station was not manned 24 hours and so response to an incident was always 20-30 minutes later so not worth calling so I had to manage best I could and I did. 
I used to have to talk with the local teenagers outside and despite their bad behaviour and language and attempts to steal alcohol from me, they were at the end of the day, bored teenagers with nothing to do. 
Our schools finished at 3pm, there was little homework to do. It is accepted that children can play out late as long as the parents know where they are. The parents might be working 2 jobs or might be in personal difficulty and so unable to raise their children properly or even know how to as, there is little support for some parents. The kids being kids are outside but the local playgrounds are locked, so they hang around and become bored and therefore destructive. Dared and bullied to steal food, or alcohol to get a 'high' resulted in them getting a taste for alcohol and or cigarettes. Access to soft drugs was easy and available and so once hooked into this there is little to get them off it.
The police don't have the manpower to patrol and the local government has not the time or resources to improve standards of living or satisfy the needs of many low income families.
Nothing is free and when disadvantaged teens see big cars, happy families etc, then they can become jealous, disengaged with society and turn nasty. 
The local economy does not guarantee them a job and then even if it does it is minimum wage or a low paid low status job which whilst pays for a lifestyle, it wont get them what they need. The schools try their best but they are powerless to establish discipline for fear of backlash or being sued. Neighbours cant complain for fear of retribution and so neighbourhoods become unfriendly and unwelcoming places and people then begin to fear worried about what that can bring; robbery, mugging etc. 

And that's just parts of my town. It may sound harsh or negative but I look at it like this. When at home in England I am more worried about looking at the wrong person, saying the wrong thing or being at the wrong place at the wrong time than anywhere else as there is a chance of being attacked or mugged or just beaten up. It is a sad fact but that is what happens and has happened. 

What has this to do with the trouble through the country? Well everything.The youth of today in certain parts of the country do not really have a voice or can see a future for them or a way out. Unemployment, the cost of living, reduced living conditions have created these thoughts and behaviours. The social divides are getting wider between the haves and the have nots and ultimately people don't like it.

The initial troubles started when a peaceful vigil was taken over by gangs of youths looking for trouble and they attacked a police station and the rioting started. The vigil started due to a local man being shot dead by police in north London. The rioting and looting that followed was not out of protest but out anger and frustration by people mainly young gangs of men and women. I would imagine that these people had no idea of the damage or upset that they caused to many areas of England and the troubles spread to cities which have the same social issues as London. 
The behaviour of these gangs was wrong and out of control and came as a complete shock as no one expected this level of unrest to happen from nowhere, also there was no real sign that this would happen. I think that it was society letting out a big sigh about how they see the way life is in England. It is not across the whole board, not everyone thinks like that but many do. Not many would riot like that as they know better and know that they have lots to lose, but a 19 year old with no job or prospects and living in a small flat in London has nothing to lose so perhaps to him, why not riot, steal and do damage. Prison time is limited and the fines paid will taken from benefit money he gets from the government. It can't damage his prospects of a job as there are none. 
The trouble died down as soon as the police stepped up a notch and the communities gathered round to clean up and show that the community spirit is as strong as ever and always there.

This is the England I am proud of, the way strangers get together to fix a  problem and show unity. The offenders will be caught I am sure of that and perhaps this wont happen again for a long time but that is hard to tell. I am not there. Local council, police and community leaders will be working together to try and find solutions and outcomes which will ensure they don't but I do believe the problem is wider than that. 

Employment, Cost of living,  Decent housing and go government are what is needed to boost these areas and people and show them that they can improve their life and their world, if that is, they want that.
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