Social Unrest and Government Policy

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This article was originally posted today on Socialist Economic Bulletin.

There’s a very good piece on LabourList titled ‘Who Didn’t Predict a Riot?’ It lists many of the bodies or leading individuals who warned that deep cuts to public spending would lead to social unrest and violence. The short piece is worth reading in full, but here is a (far from exhaustive) list of those who did predict riots and civil disturbances because of the policies of the Tory-led government:

  • Derek Barnett, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association
  • The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
  • Karen Ward, senior economist at HSBC
  • The Governor of the Bank of England
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Nick Clegg, and not least,
  • Youth workers in some of the affected areas

The latter prediction was made in response to the closure of most of the youth clubs in Haringey, but all the warnings were made in an assessment of the impact of the cuts.

The disturbances were therefore not only a predictable cause of the government’s policies, they were predicted by a broad array of specialists and commentators, many of whom are not particularly hostile to the government (and one is a leading member of it). Based on historical experience, not least the effects of Thatcher’s cuts in the early 1980s, it was inevitable that riots and other disturbances would follow as a consequence of government policy. The list is a bit long and comprehensive for the Tories to dismiss them all as excusing rioting – although doubtless that won’t stop them.

Analysis from the Guardian has shown that, while rioting and looting include many layers of society and has many motivations, the striking fact is that of those currently charged with offences, 41% live in the most deprived 10% of areas in England. This too is predictable. As bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies have pointed out, the poorest have been hardest hit by the cuts. Therefore, just as it is inevitable that deep cuts to public spending will lead to social unrest, those most harmed by the cuts, or at least some living in those communities will be at the forefront of that unrest. Latest analysis from the TUC shows that in some of the riot-affected areas there are 20 jobskeekers for every job vacancy.

Of course, even in the most deprived areas, the majority of people do not riot, still fewer engage in looting or approve of it. But opinion polls also show that while most think the police responded well to the riots (despite widespread media criticism of them) most also believe that David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson did not respond well to the riots.

Strikingly, while a majority of between 8% and 10% believe that government policies on welfare, education and law and order will make matters worse, double that level, 20% believe that government economic policies will have the same effect. A net 23% also oppose the cuts to police budgets.

Although opinion polls only ever represent a snapshot, and views expressed are often contradictory, this set of opinions reflects a fundamental truth. Government policies are not only impoverishing the majority, they have predictably led to violent social unrest. The continuation of these policies will only exacerbate those trends.

Tory policies are making the overwhelming majority worse off while also making their neighbourhoods and town centres less safe.

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