Monday, 8 August 2011

London Riots: Is unemployment and deprivation really to blame?

Having followed the coverage of, and response to, the “London Riots” over the last few days, I’ve noticed that some are using factors such as unemployment to explain away the behaviour of the perpetrators. This alone is not a satisfactory explanation. The vast number of people in this country who suffer from unemployment and economic deprivation and who do not resort to criminal behaviour - of any type, let alone involvement in mass violence, vandalism, and theft – demonstrate that criminality does not follow necessarily from deprivation.

Further to this, labour market statistics from the Office for National Statistics reveal that there are other areas around the country with higher rates of unemployment and higher rates of Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) claimants than Haringey (the Local Authority in which Tottenham is located and this trouble originated). I’ve provided the statistics for these areas and Haringey in the table below:

The obvious question arising from this data is that if this is all about unemployment and lack of opportunity, why are we not seeing similar behaviour in all areas worse afflicted by such deprivation? A more awkward and inconvenient question is why is the behaviour spreading from Tottenham to areas like Hackney and Brixton, but not to places like Liverpool or Hartlepool?

Clearly economic deprivation is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for such criminal behaviour. It is not necessary as people can riot and protest for entirely different reasons and it is not sufficient as it rarely leads to rioting. To argue that this is all about economic deprivation is to ignore other possible factors, absolve the perpetrators of guilt, and diminish the seriousness of their behaviour. If indeed deprivation is their concern (which I don't concede it is), they'd have decided to react to difficult times in a way that the vast majority of others in similar conditions have not and would not, and that is their responsibility. They are thugs and criminals with no respect whatsoever for the property, livelihoods, and welfare of others. 

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