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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Leader: The angry middle

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern.

Two months after the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, it remains conventional wisdom that the referendum result was largely a revolt by the so-called left behind. Yet this is not the full picture. Many of the 52 per cent who voted Leave were relatively prosperous and well educated, yet still angry and determined to deliver a shock to the political system. We should ask ourselves why the English middle class, for so long presumed to be placid and risk-averse, was prepared to gamble on Brexit.

Populism has long appealed to those excluded from political systems, or from a share in prosperity. In recent years, however, its appeal has broadened to young graduates and those on above-average incomes who also feel that they have not benefited from globalisation. The sense of middle-class victimhood has become a major strand in Western politics.

In the United States, middle-class anger has powered support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The former drew his activist base mostly from young liberals. And while Mr Trump’s success in the Republican primaries was often attributed to a working-class insurrection against “the elites”, exit poll data showed that the median yearly income of a Trump voter was $72,000, compared with a national average of $56,000. (For supporters of Hillary Clinton, the figure was roughly $61,000.) It is not the have-nots who have powered Mr Trump’s rise, but the have-a-bits.

In the UK, similar forces can be seen in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, research shows that three-quarters of Labour Party members are from the top social grades, known as ABC1. About 57 per cent have a degree.

Mr Sanders, Mr Trump and Mr Corbyn have very different policies, ideologies and strategies, but they are united by an ability to tap into middle-class dissatisfaction with the present order. Some of that anger flows from politicians’ failure to convey the ways in which society has improved in recent years, or to speak truthfully to electorates. In the UK and much of the West, there have been huge gains – life expectancy has risen, absolute poverty has decreased, teenage pregnancy has fallen to a record low, crime rates have fallen, and huge strides have been made in curbing gender, sexual and racial discrimination. Yet we hear too little of these successes.

Perhaps that is why so many who are doing comparatively well seem the most keen to upset the status quo. For instance, pensioners voted strongly to leave the EU and are the demographic from which Ukip attracts most support. Yet the over-65s are enjoying an era of unprecedented growth in their real incomes. Since 2010, the basic state pension has risen by over four times the increase in average earnings. 

Among young people, much of their anger is directed towards tuition fees and the iniquities of the housing market. Yet, by definition, tuition fees are paid only by those who go into higher education – and these people receive a “graduate bonus” for the rest of their lives. Half of school-leavers do not attend university and, in a globalised world, it is their wages that are most likely to be undercut by immigration.

However, we should not be complacent about the concerns of the “angry middle”. The resentment exploited by Donald Trump is the result of 40 years of stagnant median wages in the United States. In Japan and Germany, median wages have not increased in the past two decades. In the UK, meanwhile, the median income for those aged 31-59 is no greater than it was in 2007, and those aged 22-30 are 7 per cent worse off, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

To compound the problem, the wealthy keep getting wealthier. In 1980, American CEOs were paid 42 times the wage of the average worker. They are now paid 400 times as much. In the UK, the share of household income going to the top 1 per cent has more than doubled since 1979. Because of our hyperconnected, globalised media culture, we see more of the super-rich, fuelling feelings of resentment.

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern, with voters oscillating between populists of the left and the right. The political centre is hollowing out. Rather than pander to the populists, we must do more to quell the politics of victimhood by addressing the root of this corrosive sense of grievance: entrenched inequality. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser