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 tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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