The Home Office’s statistics about last summer’s riots make interesting reading, especially if we Â remind ourselves of some of the more crazed political and media analysis that accompanied these events. Â Take this wild venting about the rioters fromÂ Max Hastings in the Mail:
[stextbox id=”alert”]They are essentially wild beasts. I use that phrase advisedly, because it seems appropriate to young people bereft of the discipline that might make them employable; of the conscience that distinguishes between right and wrong. They respond only to instinctive animal impulses â€” to eat and drink, have sex, seize or destroy the accessible property of others. Â Their behaviour on the streets resembled that of the polar bear which attacked a Norwegian tourist camp last week.[/stextbox]
Hastings, like many of those from the ‘bestial’ school of thought, rejects any suggestion that the ‘feral children’ who participated in the riots had anything to do with social deprivation or inequality since ‘Â the welfare state has relieved them from hunger and real want…When social surveys speak of â€˜deprivationâ€™ and â€˜povertyâ€™, this is entirely relative.’
It might be relative Max. Â But it still exists. Â And don’t take my word for it. Â Just ask the Home Office:
[stextbox id=”alert”]Those appearing at court tended to be from moreÂ deprived circumstances than the wider populationÂ of England: 35 per cent of adult defendants wereÂ claiming out-of-work benefits (compared to 12 perÂ cent of the working age population); 42 per centÂ of young people brought before the courts were inÂ receipt of free school meals (compared to 16% ofÂ pupils in maintained secondary school); and 64 perÂ cent of those young people lived in one of the 20Â most deprived areas in the country â€“ only three perÂ cent lived in one of the 20 least deprived areas.[/stextbox]
And contrary to perceptions of a violent underclass overwhelmed by gang culture, the report found that ‘ 13 per cent of arrestees (417) were reported toÂ be affiliated to a gang’ , 337 of whom were arrested in London, and that ‘where gang members wereÂ involved [in the disturbances], they generally did not play a pivotal role’.
In terms of racial/ethnic background:Â ‘Forty per cent of all arrestees described their ethnicityÂ as White, 39 per cent as Black, 11 per cent as from aÂ Mixed ethnic background, eight per cent as Asian andÂ two per cent from some other ethnic background.’
The Report also notes that the largest number any single category of crimes consisted of 2, 561 ‘acquisitive’ crimes ( robbing shops etc) out of a total of 5,112 crimes committed in total. Â Interestingly ‘Male arrestees were moreÂ likely than females to be arrested for disorder offencesÂ while females were more likely to be arrested forÂ acquisitive offences.’
What these statistics appear to tell us is that the majority of those who took part in the riots were in fact members of a deprived underclass, and that many of them simply took an opportunity to take the things that many of them cannot afford to buy but are continually told they ought to have. Â The Italian left used to call this phenomenon autoriduzione (‘self-reduction’) of prices ie. looting, also known as ‘proletarian shopping.’
This isn’t what David Cameron is calling it. Â Â Back in August the ex-EtonianÂ peered down in horror atÂ Britain’s ‘moral collapse’ and promised to respond with a national citizens service for all 16-year olds, since Â ‘Teamwork, discipline, duty, decency: these might sound old-fashioned words but they are part of the solution to this very modern problem of alienated, angry young people.’
Jolly good show David. Â And never one to miss an opportunity to promote a little profit and privatisation for Michael Gove’s lobbyists, Â our shining moral crusader Â also promised to boost City academies, since they would have ‘higher expectations of discipline and standards‘ than comprehensives.
There was further blather about Â the ‘twisting and misrepresenting of human rights that has undermined personal responsibility’ and even the ‘obsession with health and safety that has eroded people’s willingness to act according to common sense’ – to which one can only reply ‘Say whaaat?’
Naturally Cameron Â insisted that ‘ these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.’
Maybe not. Â But some will, when the chance arises. Â And now the Home Office has made it quite clear that the riots really were ‘about poverty’ after all, and it will take a lot more than teamwork, decency, academies, Â strong fathers and ‘soldiers in classrooms’ to fix that.