Daniel Silver, a director of Salford’s Social Action and Research Foundation, flags up the local discussions on last year’s violence and its causes, which are planned for the north.
The riots that took place in August 2011 shocked the nation. It could be argued that they heralded a new strain of civil unrest in the United Kingdom.
However, with the Government blaming ‘criminality pure and simple’ and the lack of a public inquiry similar to the one undertaken by Lord Scarman in the 1980s, there was a significant void in the evidence needed to explain the August riots and to help guide the policy responses that are necessary.
The Guardian and London School of Economics‘ Reading the Riots project has sought to redress this gap. As part of Reading the Riots, researchers spoke with over 270 rioters across England and found that hostility to the police, dislocation from society and inequality were major factors behind people of all ages taking to the streets, alongside the often cited consumerist urge to ‘get some free stuff’.
Despite these clear commonalities, there were discernable geographical disparities in the way that the riots developed, differences which are bound up in specific historical and social contexts. These particular local characteristics need to be recognised and put at the heart of a suitable response.
The north of England in particular is suffering disproportionately from the ill-effects caused by the recession and the subsequent government responses. For instance, area based grants (ABG), which targeted investment to areas in need of regeneration and which laid great emphasis on tackling worklessness, have been ended. This has had significant impact in the North West, in which 21 of 39 local authority areas (including Manchester, Liverpool and Salford) were in receipt. At the same time, the representation of northern voices in government is shrinking.
Under the auspices of localism, there has been a centralisation of power and the emergence of a democratic deficit as regional voices are being neglected. The removal of the regional Government Offices and the link to Westminster that these provided, allied with the fact that there are very few northern Conservative MPs (or prospects of being more) is reflected in the current design of Government policy. Policies are rooted in a reality that few northern people recognise and that will not provide the solutions that are evidently required.
Similar scenes in Salford. Photograph: Jon Super/AP
Last year David Cameron declared that ‘fairness means giving people what they deserve, and what they deserve depends on how they behave’. Although the behaviour of the rioters is not to be condoned, the voice of all our northern communities, including those who rioted, deserves to be listened to.
It is for this reason that as a Director of Salford’s Social Action & Research Foundation, I will be working with the Guardian and LSE in early March to put on the Manchester and Salford Reading the Riots community conversations, building on the lessons that I learned as a researcher in the project. This provides the opportunity to connect the communities of these two great cities with politicians and will contribute invaluable evidence to the national response.
This has already involved many discussions with a wide range of communities and decision-makers, many of whom passionately describe the deeper social issues that the riots have revealed. The results of these conversations should lead to insights that can shed light on the wider debate and contribute to the local explanations for the momentous events that cast such a long shadow over last summer and which continue to have implications today.
The northern community conversations are as follows:
Liverpool Thursday 1 March. In partnership with the Unity Community Project. The Unity, Toxteth, 6pm-8pm
Manchester Tuesday 6 March. In partnership with Manchester’s Social Action and Research Foundation. Friends Meeting House, 6pm-8pm
Salford – details to be confirmed asap