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.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.