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Published on October 25th, 2011 | by Ben Phillips
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="216" caption="The causes of the riots: Ken Clarke speaks"]Photo credit: Ministry of Justice[/caption] Yesterday's publication, by both the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, of the latest round of statistics detailing the socio-economic backgrounds of the August rioters makes for interesting reading. For various Coalition ministers, the figures will make for fairly uncomfortable reading too. The emphasis of the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, on tackling gang culture in the aftermath of the riots now appears fairly misdirected in light of the revelation that even in London, only 19% of those charged in connection with the riots were gang members. Likewise, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary who explained the riots in terms of pervasive moral failure, may have cause to reconsider upon contemplating the finding that the rioters were generally young, poor and educationally disadvantaged. The data is not consistently revelatory or useful: attempts to quantify the ethnic makeup of the riots, for instance, tell only a little of the story, since the figures (42% of those charged were white, 46% were black and 7% Asian) accurately reflect the broader ethnic composition of some of the areas in question, but not others. However, other figures are startling and explicit in their significance. Of the adults and juveniles charged in connection to the riots, the percentages in receipt of unemployment benefits and free school meals respectively was consistently 20-30% higher than the national average. Over a third of young people that appeared in court had been excluded from school the previous year. 'As any criminologist worth their salt will tell you', argues James Mills in the New Statesman, 'those more likely to engage in the sort of crime that we saw in the riots are those with less to lose.' Often, it is clear, the rioters were those across Britain with the very least to lose. Yet this afternoon, Ken Clarke appeared impervious to these conclusions. Defending his previous characterisation of the rioters as a 'feral underclass', he described the riots as having been an 'irresponsible feckless reaction from people casually turning to crime because the opportunity presented itself.' (He also claimed that no criticism has been levelled at the courts for their sentencing procedures at the time, which is curious: I seem to remember quite a few objections being raised.) If Ed Miliband feels short of pretexts to accuse the Tories of being 'out of touch', he need look no further than yesterday's statistics and Clarke's reaction to them.

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The causes of the riots: Ken Clarke speaks

Photo credit: Ministry of Justice

The causes of the riots: Ken Clarke speaks

Yesterday’s publication, by both the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, of the latest round of statistics detailing the socio-economic backgrounds of the August rioters makes for interesting reading. For various Coalition ministers, the figures will make for fairly uncomfortable reading too. The emphasis of the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, on tackling gang culture in the aftermath of the riots now appears fairly misdirected in light of the revelation that even in London, only 19% of those charged in connection with the riots were gang members. Likewise, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary who explained the riots in terms of pervasive moral failure, may have cause to reconsider upon contemplating the finding that the rioters were generally young, poor and educationally disadvantaged.

The data is not consistently revelatory or useful: attempts to quantify the ethnic makeup of the riots, for instance, tell only a little of the story, since the figures (42% of those charged were white, 46% were black and 7% Asian) accurately reflect the broader ethnic composition of some of the areas in question, but not others. However, other figures are startling and explicit in their significance. Of the adults and juveniles charged in connection to the riots, the percentages in receipt of unemployment benefits and free school meals respectively was consistently 20-30% higher than the national average. Over a third of young people that appeared in court had been excluded from school the previous year. ‘As any criminologist worth their salt will tell you’, argues James Mills in the New Statesman, ‘those more likely to engage in the sort of crime that we saw in the riots are those with less to lose.’ Often, it is clear, the rioters were those across Britain with the very least to lose.

Yet this afternoon, Ken Clarke appeared impervious to these conclusions. Defending his previous characterisation of the rioters as a ‘feral underclass’, he described the riots as having been an ‘irresponsible feckless reaction from people casually turning to crime because the opportunity presented itself.’ (He also claimed that no criticism has been levelled at the courts for their sentencing procedures at the time, which is curious: I seem to remember quite a few objections being raised.) If Ed Miliband feels short of pretexts to accuse the Tories of being ‘out of touch’, he need look no further than yesterday’s statistics and Clarke’s reaction to them.

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