The 2011 Riots – Part Two

Who Was Involved?

From Infed.org – Mark K. Smith’s analysis of the riots in Young People and The 2011 ‘Riots’ in England – Experiences, Explanations and Implications for Youth Work:

  • In an initial analysis of those who came to court in the first week, Alex Singleton (2011) found that 41% of suspects living in one of the top 10% of most deprived places in the country. The data also shows that 66% of neighbourhoods where the accused live got poorer between 2007 and 2010. Very few of those appearing in court had jobs or were students (around 9% in total of the first 1000 cases). The Institute of Public Policy Research (2011) found that in an overwhelming majority of the worst-affected areas, youth unemployment and child poverty were significantly higher than the national average while education attainment was significantly lower.


  • When the first thousand cases are examined we find 66% of those who have appeared in court are aged under 25. 17% aged between 11 and 17. A very small number were aged over 30. More than 90% are male.


  • Ethnicity and ‘race’ form a further feature that must be addressed. Unlike some of the disturbances in the early 1980s the August events did not, on the whole, pit one ethnic community against another, although there were some exceptions, for example in some aspects of events in Birmingham and Ealing, and implicitly, Eltham. However, many of the poorer neighbourhoods affected have large ‘black’ populations. Ministry of Justice and Home Office analysis showed that 46% of defendants were ‘black’, 42% ‘white’ and 7% ‘Asian’. At one level this could be expected given the nature of the initial incident and protest – and the extent to which ‘stop and search’ has been directed against ‘black’ young people.

This particular report by Smith is very revealing, and perhaps, through the benefit of hindsight, has more insight into the reasons and tensions surrounding the riots.

The report highlights several issues that have created tension, particularly over the last few months and years. They are:

– A large amount of those involved in the riots cam from the most deprived areas of the country. Many others were from areas and families that had slipped underneath the poverty line in the last couple of years, due to recession and cut-backs.

– The closure of youth clubs, particularly in deprived areas.

– Tensions between ethnic, mainly black, communities and the police – the commencement of the ‘Stop and Search’ law and the ‘extent to which this has been directed towards ‘black’ young people’. A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission called ‘Stop and Think – A Critical review of the use of Stop and Search powers in England and Wales’ (2010) revealed:

The figures are stark: if you are black, you are at least six times as likely to be stopped and searched by the police in England and Wales as a white person. If you are Asian, you are around twice as likely to be stopped and searched as a white person.

– Gang Culture – particularly in London. Smith highlights a balance that needs to be struck in the involvement of ‘gangs’, explaining that while some members and groups were involved, to understand the riots as a whole, we also need to look past this. Most forces reported that gangs did not play a ‘pivotal role’ in the riots. Local evidence shows that in some cases gangs did orchestrate burglary at larger stores through creating distractions. London police believe there to be just under 200 gangs with between 20-30 members in London – who account for a fifth of all youth crime. During the riots, it seemed that some gangs who were initially and commonly ‘rivals’ in ‘postcode wars’ etc joined against the common foe – the police.

– Inequality and Materialism – The UK is only second to the US for having the largest gap between the rich and the poor, which common research has revealed is one of the factors in well-being i.e. in countries where this gap is bigger, more of the populations tends to be unhappy. The banking crisis of 2008 and its effects have largely preyed on children, forcing families into poverty, and struggles with finance. Add to this the pressures of consuming, and ‘technology status’ with phones and other gadgets, branded clothing distinguishing the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Parents can feel immense pressure to give their children such items even if they are outside their financial possibilities. These sorts of pressures are highly felt in low income families, and according to research the purchase of these items by these families in the UK, are an attempt ‘to compensate for relationship problems or social insecurity’.

– Moral Collapse – this is a point that refers to the inability to tell right from wrong. The presence of so many stories of illegality in ‘high places’ have also been relevant. The abuse of expenses by MP’s, the collapse of the banks through inability to control finance appropriately – leading to the recession and its effects and also the invasion of privacy by companies such as the News of The World and its phone hacking scandals – leading to a lack of trust in these companies and their failure to act for the good of society.

Smith explains that the riots happened at a time when several elements were playing a part and there is not one single and simple cause.

Tensions in the neighbourhoods of the ‘rioters’ reveal tensions between the police and the people, who are often at the same time suffering from socio-econmical problems.

Some may have seen the riots as ‘payback’, some may have seen them as ‘fun’, some may have seen them as ‘an opportunity’ whether to steal high priced electronic goods or to steal food. However it is looked at, there is a strong case for those involved to have not acted simply out of callousness, but partly, at least, as a result of the building tensions and issues happening in societies, neighbourhoods and communities, which largely work against them.

Read the Full Report from Mark K. Smith HERE.

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