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17 Jul 2018

The UK Riots: We Must Confront the 'Get Rich or Die Trying' Culture

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15 Sep 2011

Hackney is rebuilding. The heart-stopping wall-to-wall coverage may have ceased. And the foreign journalists that beat a path to the borough have gone home. But life in Hackney has continued. The response from the people of Hackney has been an inspiration - streets have been cleared, damage is being repaired, and our communities have pulled together. People are beginning to feel safe again.

It was heartbreaking to be out on the streets of Hackney as areas like the Pembury estate in Hackney became engulfed in flames, with years of incremental progress burning grotesquely for an international audience. But Hackney and its people are resilient, and the progress Hackney has made is resolute.

Cuts do not make criminals. Poverty does not make criminals either. Clearly, the causes are long-term, complex and difficult to confront. So we must ask, without fear or hesitation, why and how this happened. Because we must be sure, with people's livelihoods at stake in a fragile economy, unnecessary tensions whipped up and with the Olympics on the horizon, that this does not happen again.

This week, Theresa May, the Home Secretary stated glibly that it is 'not helpful for politicians to speculate' about what went wrong, and that 'I'm absolutely clear that what underlay it was criminality.' David Cameron's analysis also puts the riots down to "criminality" pure and simple. And stops there. It says that to explain is to excuse.

But people in Hackney have invested more thought into the riots. Now is not the time for kneejerk responses, simplistic answers and the blanket condemnation of parts of British society, because it paints a distorted picture.

We must accept and acknowledge, to begin with, that Britain is failing to provide many of our most precious urban communities with meaningful occupations and hope for the future. For many people who were rioting, that week was a rejection of the future that was laid out for them. Economic inequality, consumerism and savage government cuts have given many poorer, urban communities a profound sense of hopelessness for the future.

The availability of media and information exchange has seen immeasurable advances for the lifestyles and opportunities for some of the poorest people in the country. Yet it is mass consumerism and aspects of our media that has eroded and replaced many of the social structures that the communities grew out of - relentless advertising, MTV and instant messaging has often seemingly replaced family networks, educational commitments and community gatherings.

Yet many of these issues are not confined to our urban communities. Far from it. It was an adrenaline-based 'get rich or die trying' culture that was the fuel for both the banking crisis, and for some of the riots on our streets.

Those bankers who dragged the economy into recession made the same misjudgements and miscalculations as those people who took to the streets to drag the country into despair. In many cases, both groups believed that they had found a short cut to wealth in the face of a rapidly changing economy. Tragically, both made the awful miscalculation that there would be no consequences.

This article was originally published here: 

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