August’s disturbances saw unprecedented levels of civil disorder across the country and gave rise to much comment and debate – not all of it insightful or helpful.
At the time, Catch22 didn’t want to provide a running commentary while it reflected on the situation. Instead the Charity shared its immediate thoughts and views with its staff, so many of whom have direct experience of working with the social challenges faced by many of the young people who became involved in the riots.
In an email to all staff, Chief Executive Chris Wright wrote:
'…it is incredibly difficult at this stage to be able to offer an informed analysis. That time will come but it isn't now. However, I am very concerned to ensure that all the good work that we're involved in promoting young people in a positive light should not be undermined by lazy press assumptions and statements and in due course we will ensure that the young people we work with will get a chance to have a say.'
As the heat of events has subsided, Catch22 has been communicating its thoughts with the Prime Minister and Home Office on what can be done to prevent incidents like these happening again, move young people away from getting involved in such negative behaviours and rebuild communities affected by the disturbances.
Here, Chris Wright shares some of those thoughts about the riots
Given the nature of Catch22’s work and the fact that we work in so many communities, in which we have such diverse relationships and provide so many different services, it seemed inevitable that we would have a continuing relationship with the people and neighbourhoods at the centre of the disturbances long after the cameras and the riot police had left.
For that reason, it was important that Catch22’s response to the events of that week was in context with its over-arching approach. I didn’t want Catch22 to merely add a comment here or there to the burgeoning news and ‘analysis’ that streamed across the media and the internet, I wanted us to do what the organisation does best and share our knowledge of what works, with those who can ultimately make a difference.
Since that time, we have surveyed opinion about the riots among young people we work with. I had signalled our intention to do this in my letter to the Prime Minister, in which I also set out our view that a combination of a lack of job and training opportunities, and the consequent disconnect from the economy, were significant contributing factors to the disturbances. I also shared our sense that services designed to meet the needs of young people had failed to do so and our view that many seem designed to meet the needs of providers as opposed to those who need them.
Our in-house survey has now been analysed and, set against a back-drop of media reporting that often demonised young people, it makes contrasting reading. Half of the responses came from riot-affected areas and I’d like to share some of its findings with you.
Findings of our young people's survey
While almost ten per cent thought the cause of the riots was to do with government cuts and the recession, about a quarter of young people thought it was related to pure opportunity and the chance to ‘get free stuff’. Of those who cited ‘Government cuts’, nearly a fifth gave a lack of jobs, training and education as an example.
When asked what needs to be done to repair the damage arising from the riots, contrary to the portrayal of young people in some areas of the media as ‘feral youths’ without respect or regard for law and order, 40 per cent felt more arrests and more police were needed. This chimes with what we know about the young people we work with wanting to feel safe on the streets.
Opinions on, and reactions to, the media coverage of the riots showed that nearly a quarter of young people thought it distorted events. More than anything young people said the riots had made them angry, a feeling common throughout our communities.
Sounding out the young people we work with makes sense when Ministry of Justice figures show that 21 per cent of those brought before the courts for rioting were aged 10 to 17. Tellingly, almost three quarters had a previous caution or conviction.
So what does this tell us and, importantly, where does it lead us in terms of how we can work with policy-makers, legislators and the criminal justice system to engage with what seem to be the key drivers behind the disturbances. It is clear that many of the young people who got wrapped up in the riots had struggled to navigate a successful path through education and on into employment, and it could be argued that the system had failed them. We need to look at how we can re-engage with them in a way that helps them to get their voice heard and provides meaningful opportunities to improve their future life-chances.
Our work with young people in this situation tells us that when lack of family support, poor educational outcomes, lack of training and job opportunities and feelings of alienation combine, this can lead young people into harmful behaviours and affiliations that could blight their lives for years.
I strongly believe that measures that are linked to getting young people ready for, and into, sustainable and useful employment are fundamental to establishing the sense of belonging to society and local communities so obviously lacking in last month’s riots, although we have to recognise that this is by no means the only issue.
Catch22 engages with young people at many levels to build their sense of having a stake in society and, in particular, has a history of providing training and apprenticeship opportunities for young people as well as working within schools to ensure young people with behaviour problems can remain in education.
Pushing this strain of work even further into new areas; we are presently working with the Department for Education on developing a schools inclusion programme designed to support the emerging Free School and Academy movement. It is this kind of development that starts to restore opportunities at a key stage, where mainstream responses have not been so effective. We know that where a young person is at 16 plays a huge part in where they will be in later life, across a whole range of social indices.
Our employability work strands tie what we do in education into helping young people gain openings in the workplace, and provides the crucial support and encouragement that keeps them in work as, sadly, many young people come from homes where worklessness is the norm.
As the courts continue to deal with those who were involved in the riots, my thoughts on how we as an organisation should respond to this remain as they were at the time of the riots. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. The question we must ask is; what kind of justice?
We cannot ignore the social factors in the backgrounds of those who rioted. It’s not an excuse, let me be clear. However, if we don’t tackle these factors, we will not move these young people on in life; and if we don’t move them on we cannot hope to move our communities on. Doling out custodial sentences to satisfy a media-voiced public clamour for retribution will not do this. It’s clear that those who got involved, to some degree, felt excluded from the community and economic well-being. What good will come from removing them even further from the community?
Many of the offences seem to lend themselves to restorative approaches, where perpetrators are brought face to face with victims to hear first hand about the impact of their offences, face up to the consequences of their actions, and make reparation. Catch22 has been successfully running restorative justice projects for a number of years and we know the harm it can repair for both victim and perpetrator.
At the time of the riots the Government gave a commitment to ’influence the changing of entrenched and seemingly endemic attitudes and behaviour’. We all have a part to play in this, which is why I offered Catch22’s support in helping to achieve this. There is much that Catch22 can bring to the table when it comes to working successfully with troubled young people, their families, the victims of crime and communities. After all, our roots are deeply entrenched in the justice system. As in all that we do, I want our work to reflect our history and shape the right kind of justice – for everyone.