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A Magazine for Sheffield


The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.

H. L. Mencken

Hope is a wonderful and terrifying prospect and, much to Barack Obama's chagrin, if you do not deliver on the prospect then you should expect some serious ramifications. But the concept is crucial to the human condition and to not have it at all, even in the infancy of its being, is a toxic recipe for social disorder.

A worrying aspect of the political reaction to the riots last month was when Boris Johnson said he had "no idea" why people would have resorted to such acts. This is typical of our political system. The attitude of Michael Howard, Conservative Home Secretary in the 90s, can be summed up with his sound bite "prison works". This was echoed by Tony Blair's 1993 quote: "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". Yet where has this succession of draconian rhetoric and legislation led us? It would appear that prison is no deterrent for such violence and its ability to adequately rehabilitate inmates must be seriously called into question.

On the Friday after the events it was announced that a mother and her family were to be evicted from their social housing in Wandsworth, because one of her children was involved in the riots. Approached rationally, what do the authorities expect this woman to do? Her child is clearly out of control, and to make them homeless and possibly cut off her benefits stinks of hubris of the worse kind. I would not be surprised if the child ends up breaking the law again, this time to make ends meet.

The prison sentences handed down to participants of this chaos should rightly be harsh, but they would be useless without a progressive rehabilitation service which makes individuals truly realise the error of their ways, encouraging them to embrace civic values and nurturing the belief that they can be integrated back into their communities.

Despite the Mayor of London's claims to the contrary, there are sociological explanations for this madness. In London, funding for youth centres is facing cuts of 75%. In Manchester 58% of those arrested were under 25, with 83% in the Midlands and 91% in London.

Herein lies a contradiction at the heart of David Cameron's Big Society. He believes that the state should be rolled back in the hope that communities will fill the void. It is obvious that parents within our most deprived communities are struggling to control their children's behaviour, so how can they be expected to set up and organise youth centres which were formally manned by trained professionals? There was much written in the days after the riots calling for those convicted of criminal acts to have their benefits stopped, but people don't seem to realise that this would only lead to a greater level of criminality and a heightened sense of isolation from society.

Is there an entitlement culture? Some citizens have generationally lived on benefits, yet we have structural and systemic unemployment. It has been posited that a disproportionate amount of new jobs in the UK have gone to immigrants. This can be contested by the view that there is a woefully inadequate educational system that, it could be argued, does not prepare young people for the working world. Where do parents fall in to all of this? They fall on both divides: they are in prison, they are professionals, they are hopeless and they are leaders of our communities.

It is all too easy to pass judgement on people that we do not know. It is much harder to find answers to questions that have riddled our society for generations. A more reasoned approach would be to recognise the folly of cutting funding to youth centres and similar schemes that keep young people off the streets at night and show them that there is another way in life besides criminality. )

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