Education & Learning

A Year On From The England Riots in July 2012: Time to act before England burns again

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A year on from the England riots, we investigated what life was like for children and young people in England and what - if any - impact the riots have had on policy makers and policy making. We visited young people and youth projects and met with the Riot Panel and Lambeth Council to find out what changed in terms of youth unemployment, police relationships and community participation. Read more about what we found.

A year on from the England riots, we wanted to investigate what life was like for children and young people in England and what - if any - impact the riots have had on policy makers and policy making.

Photo: Christine Overal

Over two weeks in July 2012, we visited young people and youth projects in London and Nottingham and met leading figures from the Riot Panel and Lambeth Council.Our film, England Riots: A year on, shows the lives behind the riots and the constraints on policy makers and the limitations of change in the current economic climate.

“Residents in communities where riots took place last summer want rioters - any of whom had long criminal records - appropriately punished. However, they also believe that action is needed to ensure that in future, these individuals and those displaying worrying signs of similar behaviour can play a positive role in their areas.”

- Riot Panel

In The 5 days when England burned, we set out causes and effects of last summer’s violence and in this second article we take the Riot Communities and Victim panel’s(Riot panel) recommendations[1] and explore what’s changed in terms of youth unemployment, police relationships and community participation and give our own thoughts on what needs to happen next.

“My life is hell.”

A 16-year-old boy, who has just finished school, described how he now faced nothing. He’d tried to get a job and had been laughed at and has regular interaction with the police. Despite trying to set up a community-recording studio with a group of friends, his future, he feels, is bleak.

The story of Bookie from Nottingham is not uncommon and without some form of positive intervention in his life, his future remains uncertain and is likely to spiral downwards. In addition to his anger for the system and hatred of the government and police, he wasn’t expecting life to get better.

Youth Unemployment

“Many young people the Panel met following the riots spoke of a lack of hopes and dreams for the future - particularly because they feel there was no clear path to work in an age of record youth unemployment.”

- The Riot Panel

Figures released in July show that despite a fall of 10.000 young people out of work, still over one million are not in education, employment or training in the UK - a fifth of the UK’s youth.[2]

On youth unemployment, the Government’s independent Riot Communities and Victims panelrecommended that:

  • Government and local public services fund a ‘Youth Job Promise’ to get as many young people as possible a job, where they have been unemployed for a year.
  • Government provide a job guarantee for all young people who have been out of work for two years or more.
  • Local areas, particularly those with high levels of youth unemployment, establish neighbourhood ‘NEET Hubs’ to join up data and resources.

When Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister launched the Youth Contract, worth £1billion, it was hoped that the new initiative would create 410.000 work opportunities foryoung people over 3 years.[3] But the scheme doesn’t actually provide jobs in itself. The scheme is a wage incentive for businesses and although makes it cheaper for businesses to hire young people, it relies on businesses being in a position to hire staff at all.

A ‘youth job promise’ for young people unemployed for a year - which has gone up 264%[4] in the past year - and a ‘job guarantee’ for young people out of work for two years or more are needed and positive steps. But given the scale of the issue, local authorities and the government must do more for young people.

A ‘NEET hub’ could provide the level of intensive, multi-agency working needed to tackle the many problems in the cycle of unemployment and poverty that prevents people accessing employment. More net jobs are required, but jobs alone won’t solve the cycle of poverty and despair as many would lack qualifications needed, the stability to make work sustainable and the trust and confidence in authority.

As local authorities face large cuts from government funding, the reality is that little spare money means these kind of solutions are unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

But when they have got spending power, they must use it to maximum benefit.

“The successful contractor benefits the local community, for example by publishing details of: the number of local jobs and apprenticeships created, work experience offered and links to schools, colleges and wider youth provision.”

- The Riot Panel

Local authorities spend £88 billion - roughly £185 million in each local council - per year on procuring services from the private sector.[5] Contracts should work for the communities they serve and must include a fixed number of jobs for local young people, work experience placements for those without the necessary qualifications and apprenticeships for a vocation to be learnt.


At a time when only 56% of the public think the police do a good job in their area,[6] the concept of policing is changing and needs to respond to the community expectations of their role and relationship.

On policing, some of the key recommendations from the Riot Panel were:

  • Improved success rates and transparency in the use of Stop and Search
  • Police services proactively engage directly with their communities to debunk myths on issues that affect the perception of their integrity,
  • Police services should identify all ‘trust hotspots’ and immediately put in place a programme to improve confidence in these areas.
  • Police services continue integrating community policing values into wider teams.

“Many communities, but particularly those in London, do not feel that stop and search is conducted fairly.”

- The Riot Panel

In 2009/10, 1.3 million people were stopped and searched.[7] Out of these only 9% were arrested[8] and around 0.5% led to a conviction for carrying a dangerous weapon.[9] In our film, many young people said they felt harassed by the police.

A member of the public can be stopped under two powers. Section 1 of Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)[10] which can be made by any officer and requires an officer to have “reasonable grounds for suspecting” a crime has been committed. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994[11] is different and needs to have the authorisation of a more senior officer who designates an area or zone in which the power can be used. Section 60 does not require any suspicion that by searching an individual, an officer will find something illegal.

Stop and searches in England and Wales

Section 1 of PACE is the most commonly used power and in 2010/2011, 1.205.495 people were stopped and in April 2011, stop and search under Section 1 was at its highest since 2001.[12]

The Metropolitan Police have committed to halving the number of of Section 60 stop and searches[13] but this is a side track seeing as these only account for 4.7%[14] of all stop and searches. It is Section 1 were such acommitmentis needed and has so far not been made.

The Riot panel called for improved rates of success rates and increased transparency in the use of stop and search powers and in Haringey, the London borough which includes Tottenham, change seems to be happening.

In Haringey, stop and search was used 534 times in June, as opposed to the power being used 1.261 times in June 2011.[15] More so, 14.4% led to an arrest versus 8.6% last year.[16] In addition, no approvals for the use of Section 60 powers have been made since February.[17] Training on stop and search is now part of the induction for new PC recruits.[18]

Borough Commander, Sandra Looby said,[19]

“We recognise that stop and search is a key area of frustration among some members of the community and we are changing the way we use the power to make it more targeted and effective.

This is a positive move and more boroughs and police forced need to follow suit in making powers effective and targeted, leading to less stops and more arrests.

“Police services proactively engage directly with their communities to debunk myths on issues that affect the perception of their integrity.”

- The Riot Panel

Our perspective is defined by our reality. If police only see young people committing crime or engaging in violence, they will naturally be suspicious, guarded and defensive. Likewise, if young people’s only experience of the police is stop and search, they will feel harassed and disrespected. We need to stop the only interaction of both sides being a negatively prejudiced situation and change the experience for both sides.

“Communities want better engagement and better quality contact with all levels of police, not just community police officers. There should be a common set of values across the entire police force.”

- The Riot Panel

Simon Marcus, a member of the Riots Panel, as well as Just for Kids Lawtold us that a Stop & Talk[20] rather than Stop and Search approach was needed. Young people felt that the police were not there to protect them and this needs to be challenged in the actions, not just words, of the police force.

Police talking to young people would help build confidence and although it would take time to establish a trusting relationship, it’s a step we must take to create respect and understanding between communities and those charged with protecting us. While this is needed from both sides, it is the police who are the professionals not the public and it is their actions that can make a positive change in the community.

“Protecting - although not preserving - the front line.”

- HM Inspector ofConstabulary

Between 2010 and 2015 the police need to make £2.4 billion worth of cuts after the police force budget was cut by 20%.[21] This will result in 28.400 members of the police force losing their jobs.[22] The reorganization, which by 2015 will see between 81% & 95% of police officers on the front line,[23] needs to be accompanied with a change in training to ensure those at the forefront of policing are qualified and able to engage positively with the community - particularly young people.

Community involvement

“Everyone’s aiming for the government today. Everyone’s voices needs to get heard. And that’s what it was.”

- Reading the Riots

13 out of the 63 recommendations by the Riots, Communities & Victims panel reference local authorities and as town halls are the most common interaction that the public have with the government they play a crucial role in the lives of citizens through local services delivery.

In Lambeth, Councillor Steve Reed is overseeing a £76 million cut in the Council’s budget over the next three years with £20 million expected to hit Children and Young people’s services.[24] Figures released last month showed long term youth unemployed rising by 243%[25] in the borough with 30 people chasing every 1 job.[26]

Whether spurred on from the riots or the dramatic cuts Councils are having to manage, Lambeth Council - a self proclaimed Cooperative Council - is reimagining the way services are delivered.

In Lambeth, including young people in the way things are run could help to bring people into the heart of community decision making. From next year, a new cooperative organisation, with young people as its members, will take control of a multi-million pound budget and be legally responsible for the commissioning and delivery of children and youth services in the borough.

We don’t know whether this will work, but what we have seen is that throwing money at a problem, hasn’t always given us the outcomes we’d expected and Local Authorities must explore new ways of running services rather than simply cutting the cord from town halls to neighbourhoods. Time will tell whether this new entity has the ability to deliver services on a shoestring and take young people seriously. Few people want to see multi-million pound cuts in services, but that is the reality we’re faced with.


While many of the cuts and withdrawal of services may have been contributing factors to the riots, what is most noticeable is the negative culture and feeling of worth as a generation that this perpetuated. The atmosphere of anger, hopelessness and insecurity about the future is palpable for the youth generation as they struggle to carve out an identity and self worth that is not defined by the length of the benefits line.

But to do that young people need help.

“Having a mentor can help young people … feel more positive about their future.”

- The Riot Panel

When we met Bookie and heard his story in Nottingham, it was clear he needed someone to guide and support him. The Riots panel championed mentoring for young people leaving prison to tackle reoffending, but it is also needed for the many people not passing through the youth justice system. Having a role model, someone you can relate to, connect with and who understands your experience can make the difference between a life of uncertainty and fear and a life of worth and self-fulfillment.

Many parents, families and friends play this role but for those who don’t have a stable home life need a mentor figure to act as the voice of direction, support and guidance. This urgently needs acting upon by schools, local authorities and central government. Following the success of Team GB at London 2012, there are no shortage of positive role models and a nationwide mentorship programme could transform the attitudes and outlook of despondent and hopeless youth.

Moving forward

In the short term, we’ll need to find ways of tackling these problems with much less public money than there was before. Changing the way the police approach young people on the street doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Stopping and Talking costs no more than Stopping and Searching and building relationships can be done for free.

But increased spending alone has often failed to tackle social problems and now is a time for new approaches to the way services, councils, police and communities run and interact. Throughout history, the hardest of times have sparked the most innovative of solutions - think of the NHS, women’s empowerment, medical and technology advances. In Lambeth, the experiment of delivering youth services in a cooperative model is one example of the kind of thinking needed.

There is also something more fundamental at work. Economic approaches, regeneration, growth and jobs all play a role in the solution in tackling our underlying social problems, but they miss a crucial aspect of the anger and frustration that people feel. For many, the issue is about justice, fairness and equality. Justice in terms of government, police and press corruption, fairness in cuts equality in lowering the gap between rich and poor.

Life, for those we met, is little different now than last year and without action we risk a repeat of the riots. Throughout the past year, much time has been spent reflect and analyzing the causes of the riots and the recommendations give a clear pathway for action. But little has been done.

The debate on causes and effect was needed, but must end here. The time of navel-gazing at society is over and we must now deliver change before further failing a generation.


[1] - Riot, Communities & Victims Panel Final Report. Link []
[2] - The Office of National Statistics (via) []
[3] - HM Cabinet Office, April 2012.Link []
[4] - TUC Report (via) []
[5] - The Federation of Small Businesses. Link []
[6] - The Guardian. Link []
[7] - Home Office data (via) []
[8] - Home Office data (via) []
[9] - Home Office data (via) []
[10] - Section 1 of Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Link []
[11] - Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Link []
[12] - Home Office data on Stop & Search (via) []
[13] - The Guardian. Link []
[14] - Total Stop & Search use in 2010/2011 was 1,276,669. Use of Section 60 was 60,180 or 4.7%. Link []
[15] - Tottenham & Wood Green Journal. Link []
[16] - Tottenham & Wood Green Journal. Link []
[17] - Tottenham & Wood Green Journal. Link []
[18] - Tottenham & Wood Green Journal. Link []
[19] - Tottenham & Wood Green Journal. Link []
[20] - Stop & Talk campaign. Link []
[21] - HM Inspector ofConstabulary. Link []
[22] - HM Inspector ofConstabulary. Link []
[23] - HM Inspector ofConstabulary. Link []
[24] - Lambeth UNISON. Link []
[25] - LondonAssemblyLabour. Link []
[26] - Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary. Link []