August 9, 2011

London is burning—here’s why.

Image: BBC

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London is burning.

I spent 14 years living in London. I lived in Tottenham—North London—where this past weekend’s rioting started, and Hackney, where it continues. I didn’t live in Peckham, Lewisham, Croydon or Brixton—South London—where more rioting has since broken out.

The violence has not only been rife throughout London—on a 30 mile radius—but also throughout England. The cities and counties of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Nottinghamshire have all seen hundreds of people rampaging through streets destroying property and looting.

There are reports of scores of injured police; many shops have been looted; bins, cars, buses, shops and residences have been set alight.

London is burning.

Photograph: Kerim Okten/EPA

When I moved out of London seven years ago, I worked for one year as a youth worker in Watford (a large town in the suburbs of London), and what I learnt in that year astounded me.

My job was to take a group of up to 15 young people (aged 16 – 25) and help them to turn their lives around. These were young people who had fallen through society’s ‘net’. I worked with drug addicts, prison leavers and pregnant teenage girls. I was alone with this group of 15. There was no funding for the assistant that I was supposed to have.

I could tell you some horror stories. But not now.

Now, all I want to say is this: look at what’s happening. The thin veneer of our ‘civilized’ society is torn back, and all the world is able to see what lurks beneath. Anarchy.

Why? Today’s youth have been betrayed.

The work I did that year was ridiculously under-funded. I once told my manager that I was reluctant to take a certain boy on a week-long field trip because I feared for the safety of the girls in the group (this boy had recently come out of prison: convicted of stabbing a man in the chest). My manager told me I had to take him. The reason: every ‘YP’ (young person) that I took meant extra funding for the course. We couldn’t survive without it.

My fears were later justified when I was forced to send him home early—he pulled a knife on me.

A few years previous to that, I had voted (along with most of the country) Tony Blair into power as Prime Minister. Why had I voted for him? These three words of his:

“Education, education, education”.

A few years later lack of funding in the education system almost cost me my life: the country had enough money to carry out an illegal, unnecessary and unwanted war in Iraq, but apparently not enough to take care of its own young.

On the news today I’ve seen various politicians talking about ‘criminality’ and ‘gratuitous violence‘. One police chief, when asked what was the cause of the rioting, said that it was just ‘kids looking for some excitement in the summer holidays’.

What hope is there for a better future when the people whose responsibility it is (and who have the power) for making these things better have absolutely no clue as to what is causing the problem in the first place? Or don’t care…

I believe that Western capitalist democracies are a disaster. I believe that what we’ve seen over this last weekend in England, and especially London, is the tip of the iceberg. I urge you to pay attention (most of your attention, not just some of it) to your children, and to the children in your communities. They are the future, plain and simple.

At the moment, the future is not bright.

Please leave a comment. What do you think is the cause of the explosion of violence we’ve witnessed in the UK this last weekend?

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