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A View of the UK Riots from Someone Who Has Experienced Both Sides

by Allan Weaver author of So You Think You Know Me? 30 August 2011.

In relation to the London riots of August 2011, I was both shocked and troubled at the nature and intensity and I noted with interest that some commentators latterly were highlighting the diverse age and socio/economic status of the rioters in an attempt, I felt, to highlight the whole episode as an act of sheer criminality. This was no doubt the case with some people who were caught up with events.

However, I still firmly believe that fundamental questions should be asked. We have a generation of young people who are almost excluded totally from what we would regard as mainstream society: no realistic access to employment, reliant on state benefits, poor educational opportunities, sub-standard housing, etc. and we essentially have the emergence of an 'underclass' with no sense of belonging or investment in their local communities. Within this context, we could perhaps question how effective the response to date has been and will prove to be.

There has been an increasing use of imprisonment with some custodial sentences being clearly disproportionate and particularly punitive. Will the widespread criminalisation of people help address the issue? Will it help acknowledge and address the underlying causes? I think not - and until these fundamental issues are addressed then we will always have those on the margins of society with little or no sense of belonging.

Allan Weaver is a social worker and ex-offender, and author of So You Think You Know Me?.

See also ex-offender Justin Rollins' comments in the aftermath of the riots