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.

Getty
Show Hide image

BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.