Poverty, not lack of morals, was to blame for the riots

Evidence published by the Ministry of Justice discredits Gove's view on the causes of the riots.

The Ministry of Justice's statistical report published yesterday into the riots must bring misery to the ears of those like Michael Gove who wished to argue that the root causes of the riots was a lack of morals and values and not poverty. The government's own figures show that the rioters were in general less educated, young, and ultimately poor.

It brings back the one question which could not be answered by those who made such arguments: why were there no major riots in Richmond? In fact not even one rioter arrested by the police even came from there. By his own logic, would Gove argue that the people of Richmond are more morally virtuous than elsewhere in London?

There was a level of criminal copy cat activity going on across London, but mysteriously not by large hordes of young people in Richmond. We did not see an army of rubber Wellington boot wearing, barber jacket clad, red trouser Henley Regatta types storming a Jack Wills shop in Richmond. It certainly wasn't the cast of Made In Chelsea on my TV last August.

What has made this modern utopia in TW9? Could it be the demography, which explains why Richmond was riot free? There are a quarter of 5-15 year olds in Richmond who go to private school compared to a national average below 7 per cent. Or only 12 per cent of children born into poverty in Richmond. Compare that with areas like Haringey and Hackney, where four out of ten children are born into poverty (rising to almost six out of ten if you catch a bus to Tower Hamlets).

There were a quarter of those arrested between the ages of 10 and 17. Of these children arrested in the riots, 42 per cent were also in receipt of free school meals, 43 per cent of children in state schools in Newham are on free school meals almost double the London average. Whereas Richmond has a third less than the London average of children on free school meals. There are also five times more EMA recipients in Newham than Richmond.

Furthermore, in the ranking of constituencies by no qualification there are almost 600 places between the constituencies of Tottenham MP David Lammy's parliamentary seat than say Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith's. Only 4 per cent of people in Richmond Park have no qualifications, compared to almost a quarter in Tottenham. There's also three times more social housing in Tottenham than Richmond Park.

Oh what about the rioters seen in nearby Ealing I hear you say? Well, yes Ealing Broadway and the near surrounding streets are a little middle class enclave with a well to do private girls school off the main drag. But if you take a 10 min bus ride away from the high streets you will find it's not so middle class; with three times the number living in families on benefits there than in Richmond and it rises to five times more in somewhere like Tower Hamlets.

For me the rioters resembled more the people I grew up with than the people I attended University with. Of course, there are poor people who do not engage in crime, I was one, but as any criminologist worth their salt will tell you, those more likely to engage in the sort of crime that we saw in the riots, are those with less to lose. And if the above evidence proves anything, it is that those with the least to lose, were certainly those who lived in areas of London where rioting took place.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that: "There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor." The misery of the likes of Michael Gove is their inability to see such misery.

James Mills is campaign director of the Save EMA campaign.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital