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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As children face a mental health crisis, should schools take the lead in fighting it?

There is a crisis affecting the mental health of England's young people. As Children’s Mental Health Week gets underway, the government must put schools at the heart of mental health services.

Three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition. Half of these are conduct (behavioural) disorders, while one third are emotional disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression, which often becomes outwardly apparent through self-harm. There was a staggering 52 per cent jump in hospital admissions for children and young people who had self-harmed between 2009 and 2015.

Schools and teachers have consistently reported the scale of the problem since 2009. Last year, over half of teachers reported that more of their pupils experience mental health problems than in the past. But teachers also consistently report how ill-equipped they feel to meet pupils’ mental health needs, and often cite a lack of training, expertise and support from NHS services.

Part of the reason for the increased pressure on schools is that there are now fewer ‘early intervention’ and low-level mental health services based in the community. Cuts to local authority budgets since 2010 have resulted in significant erosion of these services, despite strong evidence of their effectiveness in reducing escalation and crises further down the line. According to the parliamentary Health Select Committee, this has led specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to become inundated with more severe and complex cases that have been allowed to escalate through a lack of early treatment.

This matters.  Allowing the mental health of children and young people to deteriorate to this extent will prevent us from creating a healthy, happy, economically productive society.

So what part should schools play in government’s response?

During the last parliament, the government played down the role of schools in meeting pupils’ mental health and wider emotional needs. Michael Gove, during his tenure as education secretary, made a conscious decision to move away from the Every Child Matters framework, which obliged local authorities to work with schools and health services to improve the ‘physical and mental wellbeing’ of all children in their local area. He argued that schools policy needed to focus more heavily on academic outcomes and educational rigour, and references to children’s wellbeing were removed from the Ofsted framework. This created a false dichotomy between academic standards and pupils’ mental health - why can’t a school promote both?

But since Gove was replaced by Nicky Morgan, a new window of opportunity for meaningful reform has opened. Following her appointment in 2014, Morgan has called on schools to promote resilience and protect pupil’s mental health when problems first arise. The Department for Education has made tentative steps in this direction, publishing advice on counselling in schools and announcing a new pilot scheme to link schools with NHS services.

However, much more needs to be done.

The only way to break the pressures on both mental health services and schools is to reinvest in early intervention services of the kind that local authorities and the NHS have been forced to cut over the last few years. But this time around there should be one major difference – there is a compelling case that services should be based largely inside schools.

There are strong arguments for why schools are best placed to provide mental health services. Schools see young people more than any other service, giving them a unique ability to get to hard-to-reach children and young people and build meaningful relationships with them over time. Studies have shown that children and young people largely prefer to see a counsellor in school rather than in an outside environment, and attendance rates for school-based services such as those provided by the charity Place2Be are often better than those for CAMHS. Young people have reported that for low-level conditions such as stress and anxiety, a clinical NHS setting can sometimes be daunting and off-putting.

There are already examples of innovative schools which combine mental health and wellbeing provision with a strong academic curriculum. For example, School 21 in East London dedicates 2.5 hours per week to wellbeing, creating opportunities for pastoral staff to identify problems as early as possible.

There is a huge opportunity for Nicky Morgan – as well as Labour’s shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger – to call for schools to be placed at the heart of a reconstructed early intervention infrastructure.

This will, though, require a huge cultural shift. Politicians, policymakers, commissioners and school leaders must be brave enough to make the leap in to reimagining schools as providers of health as well as education services.

Craig Thorley is a research fellow at IPPR, where he leads work on mental health. Follow him @craigjthorley