One year after the 2011 England Riots, what do we know?

The Equality Trust presents their digest of the causes of the riots.

Children and parents, personal resilience, hopes and dreams, the brands, the usual suspects, police and the public, community engagment, involvement and cohesion. What do these have in common? They were identified as key themes to address in the wake of the 2011 England Riots.

The Government-commissioned Riots, Communities and Victims Panel put the themes together. The Equality Trust’s Research Digest 5 (pdf), out today, reflects on the themes and summarises academic research on the relationship between the themes and income inequality:

• Children and parents: British epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson have explored the link between income inequality and the UNICEF index of child well-being. What they found is that where inequality is high, child well-being tends to be lower.

• Building personal resilience: Relative deprivation adds to the stresses of family and community life, so removing sources of resilience (pdf). Over time stresses accumulate, and resilence is often worn away.

• Hopes and dreams: In wealthy, market democracies, inequality is a good predictor of how likely it is that a person who is born poor will stay poor. As far as dreams go, if these do not match up to real prospects, it is easy to see why some young people would think that they have no stake in society. According to the OECD, social mobility is less likely in the UK than in any other wealthy country in the world. There are many possible reasons for this, including resource-rich neighbourhoods, good schools, better preparation for higher education, family and friend networks, and snobbery and prejudice – all of which are available differentially to certain groups in a more stratified society. Those born less lucky benefit less from good neighbourhoods, good schools, and family networks, so creating a stickiness of family background for the more disadvantaged that it difficult to escape.

• The brands: Relative deprivation has been linked to conspicuous consumption and consumerism.

• The usual suspects [criminality]: Crime, including violent and acquisitive crime, has been linked to inequality—in multiple contexts and through multiple methodologies (pdf).

• Police and the public: Where inequality is high, there is evidence that there is more deadly use of force on the part of police. One young person from Tottenham commented:

“Police need to be more open. Just a short statement after Mark Duggan’s death would have helped. And if any police officer does anything wrong they should be dealt with. Need to show that they are not above the law themselves. We need to be able to trust them.” (Young person, Tottenham, National Centre for Social Research).

• Community engagement, involvement and cohesion: From the World Values Survey there is evidence that inequality reduces social cohesion, weakens community life and lowers levels of trust.

On the first anniversary of the England Riots of 2011, it is useful to reflect on our society and the outbreak of riots one year ago, in August. According to the Equality Trust’s report, income inequality affects starting points (children and parents), trajectories (personal resilience, hopes and dreams) and outcomes (consumerism, violent crime and excessive force by police). The Digest concludes that, if we want to foster a cohesive, shared society, we should be aiming for a less stratified society, with high levels of trust and strong communities.

Broom rat. Photograph by Infrogmation/CC-BY-SA

The Equality Trust is an independent, evidence based campaign working to reduce income inequality in order to improve the quality of life in the UK.

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The economic and moral case for global open borders

Few politicians are prepared to back a policy of free movement everywhere. Perhaps they should. 

Across the world, borders are being closed, not opened. In the US, Donald Trump has vowed to halve immigration to 500,000 and to cap the number of refugees at 50,000. In the UK, the Conservative government has reaffirmed its pledge to end free movement after Brexit is concluded. In Europe, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are being sued by the EU for refusing to accept a mandatory share of refugees.

Even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has followed the rightward drift. Its general election manifesto promised to end free movement, and Corbyn recently complained of the “wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe”.

Among economists, however, a diametrically opposed conversation prevails. They argue that rather than limiting free movement, leaders should expand it: from Europe to the world. Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, likens the present system to leaving “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk”.

Economists estimate that allowing migrants to move to any country they choose would increase global GDP by between 67 and 147 per cent. A doubling of GDP (a $78trn increase) would correspond to 23 years of growth at 3 per cent. By contrast, the International Monetary Fund estimates that permitting the entirely free movement of capital would add a mere $65bn.

The moral case for open borders is similarly persuasive. As the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman writes in his recent book Utopia for Realists: “Borders are the single biggest cause of discrimination in all of world history. Inequality gaps between people living in the same country are nothing in comparison to those between separated global citizenries.” An unskilled Mexican worker who migrates to the US would raise their pay by around 150 per cent; an unskilled Nigerian by more than 1,000 per cent.

In his epochal 1971 work A Theory of Justice, the American philosopher John Rawls imagined individuals behind a “veil of ignorance”, knowing nothing of their talents, their wealth or their class. It follows, he argued, that they would choose an economic system in which inequalities are permitted only if they benefit the most disadvantaged. The risk of being penalised is too great to do otherwise. By the same logic, one could argue that, ignorant of their fortunes, individuals would favour a world of open borders in which birth does not determine destiny.

Yet beyond Rawls’s “original position”, the real-world obstacles to free movement are immense. Voters worry that migrants will depress their wages, take their jobs, burden the welfare state, increase crime and commit terrorism. The problem is worsened by demagogic politicians who seek to exploit such fears.

But research shows that host countries gain, rather than lose, from immigration. Migrants are usually younger and healthier than their domestic counterparts and contribute far more in tax revenue than they claim in benefits. Rather than merely “taking” jobs, migrants and their children create them (Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant, is one example). In the US, newcomers are only a fifth as likely to be imprisoned as the native born. A Warwick University study of migration flows between 145 countries found that immigration helped to reduce terrorism by promoting economic development.

In a world of open borders, the right to move need not be an unqualified one (the pollster Gallup found that 630 million people – 13 per cent of the global population – would migrate permanently). Under the EU’s free movement system, migrants must prove after three months that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student, or have “sufficient resources” (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be “a burden on the benefits system” – conditions that the UK, ironically, has never applied.

But so radical does the proposal sound that few politicians are prepared to give voice to it. An exception is the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who argued in 2016: “Inevitably, in this century, we will have open borders. We are seeing it in Europe already. The movement of peoples across the globe will mean that borders are almost going to become irrelevant by the end of this century, so we should be preparing for that and explaining why people move.”

At present, in a supposed era of opportunity, only 3 per cent of the global population live outside the country of their birth. As politicians contrive to ensure even fewer are able to do so, the case for free movement must be made anew.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear