Professor Tim Newburn (head of social policy at the London School of Economics) ponders the ‘Officer Krupke’ question in CiF:
What should we make of this new data? First, it is important not to be swayed too much by some of the media coverage. “Too sick to work, but not too sick to riot” was the Daily Mail’s take on the fact that Department of Work and Pensions data suggest that up to 10% of those appearing in court were on incapacity benefit or disability living allowance.
No, don’t let yourself be swayed by that awful ‘Daily Mail’, allow yourself to be swayed by the ‘Guardian’, instead! They don’t have an agenda, do they?
These figures, together with information on previous criminal histories, led the Sun to describe the rioters as being part of a “feckless criminal underclass”.
And it’s hard not to agree with them. But I’m sure Prof Tim has a few good reasons why we shouldn’t think that way…
While the analyses do in some ways provide pretty grim reading, they refer to those who have appeared in court so far, and are not necessarily representative of the social mix actually involved in the disturbances.
Well, taking a lesson from ‘Frozen Planet’, it’s true that the first bison caught by the wolves are usually the slowest and weakest in the herd, but the fastest and strongest are still bison, when all’s said and done, eh?
Putting that to one side, what do the government figures tell us? The overwhelming picture painted by the Ministry of Justice concerns social deprivation.
Which seems to be Prof Tim’s quaint way of saying that these people are out there stealing and looting and rioting because they have nothing.
Two-fifths of the young people appearing in court were receiving free school meals, compared with significantly under one fifth in the secondary school population generally. Almost two-thirds of the young people lived in one of the most deprived areas compared with only 3% from one of the least deprived areas. In slightly more than a third of the adult cases, the person concerned was claiming benefits.
So far from being destitute, these people are suckling at the teat of society, the ‘safety net’ that is supposed to stopthem committing crimes to feed themselves.
But it is the educational data that are perhaps the most intriguing. In addition to the information on free school meals, the ministry reported that close to two-thirds of the young people in court were identified as having special education needs.
Which, as we all know, has morphed from its original purpose and come to be a catch-all label for the mad and the bad…
Considerable social research over the years, including government research, has shown how truancy, exclusion from school and low educational attainment are strongly identified as “risk factors” in relation to involvement in crime.
It’s a chicken-egg situation, though; are they criminals because they didn’t do well at home and school, or do they not do well at home and school because they’re (latent) criminals?
Add into that mix living in a socially deprived neighbourhood, and the young people who appear to feature in the most recent statistical releases on riot-related arrests look rather like we might expect them to.
Well, on that, at least, we agree, Prof. They were indeed exactly how I expected them to be…