Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Making sense of the London riots

The Globe and Mail takes a stab at what sparked the riots in London (and now Birmingham,Manchester and Liverpool). It's what you'd expect: high enemployment among young people.

...this is clearly an event with far deeper causes than simple random hooliganism. A night of protesting and looting in one neighbourhood is not an unusual phenomenon in London, where a certain sort of mass drink-fuelled petty crime and low-level rioting never lies far beneath the surface. But ... this is an event of a much different magnitude.
There are some things uniting the London rioters. Almost all are under 20. Police reported that the youngest arrested over the weekend was 11 years old, and that almost all were born in the 1990s.

...This is a chronic problem in Britain, which has a “lost generation” of young high-school dropouts far larger than most other Western countries.

One European Union study this year found that 17 per cent of Britain’s youth are classified as “NEETs” – for Not in Employment, Education or Training, in other words high-school dropouts with no prospects of employment – the fourth-highest percentage in the European Union. There are 600,000 people under 25 in Britain who have never had a day of work.

Why these disenfranchised youth so explosively made their presence known in such a devastatingly violent way, and how this will all end, is not yet understood. But it puts a dark punctuation mark on what had, until this weekend, been London’s brightest modern era.
The Guardian does a good job interviewing rioters, and draws the same conclusion about joblessness:
With the highest rate of unemployment in London and a population feeling the squeeze from the downturn and cuts, some locals appealed for understanding. Duggan's death, they said, had unleashed a tidal wave of anger. "This has been building up for a long time," said Leon, who refused to give his surname and said he "saw" a lot of what happened on Saturday night.
Yes, he said, there had been a large element of opportunism behind the looting: "This is an area with no opportunity for employment so do you expect people not to see an opportunity?" But, more than anything, it was about the police and politics. Young black people felt they were treated differently by the police, being stopped and searched on a "constant" basis. And, he added, he couldn't find a job: "Even if you do, it's on the minimum wage."