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What’s clear over the last few days is that there is a underclass that remains – normally – hidden from the rest of society.

If you’re reading this in August, try the following link, for me, an eye opening interview with Camilla Batmanghelidjh, director of Kids Company. It starts 11 minutes in, do listen.

It seems clear this is a vicious circle, many are automatically condemned from the day they are born. Society fails them.

Of course, we are all different, some strong spirits can start with nothing to their name and climb up to great things. Many can climb several rungs up the ladder, starting at a failing school with little support and going on to University and so on. But we can’t make the assumption that because some can and do, that all have it in them. Do we give up on those who lack of drive?

This quote, 26 minutes in to the above broadcast hit me:

“it’s not about material poverty… their carers are disturbed and dysfunctional and often addicted to substances, stuck in the ghetto where society does not offer a way out. What price do you pay if your parents are the biggest risk to you?”

I challenge you to be unmoved by that.

Of course, after watching people’s homes, livelihoods and lives destroyed by total mindless violence it’s hard to show sympathy towards those causing this, especially when they seem so totally detached from what they are doing and basic norms of how people act. I found my liberal side thinking “let’s be more like Norway, no knee jerk reactions”, but my other side loudly said “send in the water canons… let’s lock up the bastards”.

But sending all those convicted of crimes will probably do little good, if anything will simply create more problems in the future. But we are dealing with a group of people who think they are unstoppable (and with almost nothing to loose, to an extent they are). So what do we do?

How do we show them that such behaviour does not pay in the short term, and deal with the wider issues in the long term? …I don’t know.

At a simplistic level, closing various youth groups, community centres, and support groups is suicidal, cutting off life lines for countless individuals and creating much bigger issues and costs for society at large. Cutting them is stupid and short sighted.


We build our society on liberty. To me that means that I and anyone else can do whatever we want, so long as it does not affect others (except consenting adults) in a negative way. If it affects people in a adversely negative way then that is when the law steps in.

But for me, it seems that liberty is stretched to breaking when it comes to children. What you do, and how you live your life directly affects your children in such an absolute way. Children who are neglected or abused are fucked.

This is not news, we have all seen those who are bought up in a world of books, introduced to countless new experiences, are taught morals and responsibility through example. We’ve probably all seen those in at the opposite end as well. And those bought up devoid of parenting, stimulus, decent education, good examples to follow, will struggle to get anywhere in life, and to be blunt can cause society at large to falter. Which is what we have seen this week. Put another way, for the sake of society at large, and the individual children, we need to forsake an element of liberty.

State intervention is difficult, and many actions can be seen as negative in their own light, such as taking children in to care or dictating how parents act. Can you imagine if you needed the equivalent to a driving test to have children? Unthinkable. The work of science fiction. Yet while – obviously – no way advocating it, think of all the unfit parents it would weed out. Bringing up children is one of (if not the) most important thing we can do, and yet it is the one thing where no training, or recognition that we are fit to do so is required. Nor probably should it be, but an interesting point.

Essentially the option often used is to try and expect schools to pick up where parenting in some quarters fails. But schools are just not equipped or resourced to do this. While not at the same level as we are probably seeing her, a friend of mine who teaches the first year of compulsory education (whatever it’s called nowadays, reception?) at a school in a fairly deprived area would explain how many could barely talk, many had never heard ‘no’ before. While Please/Thank you may be somewhat trivial, the fact these are alien terms was symptomatic of a lack of general up bringing.

But perhaps that is one of the only real options, to give kids a chance, and society as a whole to benefit, perhaps we need schools to take on more of the parental role for those who lack parents who are willing and able to offer it. Food for thought, this inner London school buying a ex-public boarding school in West Sussex and sending pupils there : “Under the plan, children will leave Durand Primary School, in Lambeth, south London, aged 13, and board for four nights a week, free of charge, at the school, built on the site of a former public school in west Sussex.” It reminds me a little of Christ’s Hospital, also of West Sussex. It can be a little uncomfortable reading for chattering-class ears, sending poor kids away to induct them in the middle class country side. But may well be a life line to escape.

I think the issue is that the parents are to blame for their kids being on the streets, yet the parents themselves may just as likely need help (rather than punishment) and themselves lived a life where no opportunities existed, yet abuse of all kinds did.

Oddly, Hulk Hogan (yes you read right) who was on the show straight after Camilla Batmanghelidjh put it so bluntly well (28 mins in) “We need to rethink, brother, rethink, get these kid’s heads together in a positive direction. Break the circle, the craziness what’s going on”.

At this time there is understandable anger, myself included, kids should not rule the streets, the Police should not be running scared, teenagers should have some basic level of understanding that what they are doing will ruin people’s lives and hurt hard working people, and that the way you get material goods is to work – we do not have a right to them (yes, we can argue if advertising creates a false impression of what we all should have and desire). An elderly woman woke in her home in Ealing to find teenagers in her bedroom, hundreds of family owned businesses destroyed, property and cars destroyed, historical buildings destroyed, people escaping fire over roof tops and jumping for from high windows. It must have been terrifying.


And the Police should not be in a position where they are running scared from rioters (one scene I saw reminded me of the Runts in City of God). But we need no knee-jerk reaction here.

The Police seem to be in an unfortunate situation of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Yet their presence on Monday evening seemed somewhat lacking. While trouble was springing up in a number of places, it seemed so many of these had little to no policing, especially when there was warning of trouble which had started two nights a go. There have been times and events where there seem to be a million officers on the street, why was Monday so different? The Police should have been ready and there in numbers.

It wasn’t just numbers, tactics and planning seemed to be absent. Many seemed to stand around, others were outnumbered and left running from the rioters. When one teenage girl said “We came here tonight to show the police we’re in charge and we’re done that” she wasn’t wrong.

During the student protests the Police were accused of being too soft and too harsh, it seems no one was happy with them. The protests would often start off well, good relations, a bad bunch would break off and cause mayhem, the Police would crack down, be accused of (and probably partly guilty of) all sorts of off-the-top actions, and so forth. There were people on twitter I like and respect who would pick out every tweet accusing the Police of something bad and retweet it religiously (I should add, there were things such as kettling people late in to the night on a bridge which were little more than vindictive and I have serious issues with). But it perhaps shows the mentality of many people where their  default position is that the Police are rotten evil and must be held to account. It makes the Police defensive and worried of risk and that isn’t good.

We don’t need to look to the States for ideas, most of us would be against their style of policing (which seems to often exacerbate problems), but there are methods used in Europe which are worth considering in extreme situations. The lawless (what ever the long term issues that underlie it) should be scared when the police term up.

In conclusion, we have let a whole new class develop in this country, gone unseen until now. We need new ways for them in interact with the state, a hundreds of different organisations each with hundreds of forms does not work. Simply handing out benefits and telling them to look for jobs does not work. There are deep issues, and they take money and highly trained, resourced, teams to address. It’s no good just pointing out that others have gone from nothing to greatness, we can’t all be like that. But we can help set direction, and help break the circle.

I don’t have the answer to that, it would be folly for me to think I did, but we need to do something and the current agenda of closing the very groups, organisations, Quangos etc that tried to help is not working, nor could it ever be expected to. In the words of Hulk Hogan: we need to re-think, brother.

One response to “Underclass”

  1. Chris Sylvester avatar

    Great article. We’d all do well to consider the long established, root causes of these issues…