The response of some to the riots which swept the UK last month was to say “Yes, we know this is criminality, but you can’t ignore the cuts/poverty” While stopping short of excusing the violence which left five dead and caused millions of pounds of damage there was an attempt by these people to ‘contextualise’ it.
Contextualising is often little more than pinning the tail of your pet political cause to the donkey of whatever is in the headlines that week. So it was with the riots. As Kristian Neimetz blogged for the Institute of Economic Affairs the riots had nothing to do with material poverty. Neimetz points out that:
“The standard rate of Income Support for a non-working single mother with one teenager is currently £562.60 per month. On top of that comes Child Benefit, currently at £87.97 per month, and Child Tax Credit at £168.90, assuming only the most basic rate. The rate of Housing Benefit depends on where she lives; it is £1000 per month in inner southeast London, £1213.33 in inner east London and £1256.67 in central London (which includes Camden and most of Hackney). Council Tax is also covered. This is at current rates, meaning after the ‘savage cuts’, and ignores other benefits which are a bit trickier to qualify for.”
You can actually live a pretty sweet life on benefits. Beveridge’s safety net has become a hammock.
This isn’t to say we don’t have poverty in Britain, we do, but only because poverty has been redefined to mean having less than half the money of the Duke of Devonshire. The rioters outside my east London flat didn’t look too poverty stricken, wearing Franklin & Marshall gear and filming their mayhem on iPhones. The truth is that in a real sense there is very little material poverty in the UK today.
The contextualisers also said that cuts to youth services played a role in the riots, as though these kids would stop burning buildings down if only they had a ping pong table. It also never seemed to have occurred to the contextualisers that earlier generations of children refrained from rioting when all they had to distract them was a Hula Hoop.
Neimetz dealt with this cuts argument in his blog but, again, we saw the common, utter confusion among the contextualisers about what it is the government is actually doing. It is not cutting the debt but the deficit, which is the rate at which the debt is growing. At the end of this Parliament government spending is forecast to be nearly £100 billion higher than when the coalition took office. So much for cuts!
That’s not to say that there was no context for these riots – there was. Base criminality. According to statistics released this week three quarters of those appearing in court for their part in the riots have previous convictions. They weren’t reacting to poverty or cuts; they were just out doing what they normally do.
This article originally appeared at Global Politics