Darra Singh is also an Executive Director of Ernst & Young’s local public services team. Please note that this article was written before the publication of the report in question.
In the aftermath of the August 2011 riots in English cities, the independent Riots Communities and Victims Panel was set up to investigate the causes of the trouble at the request of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. The panel is committed to trying to prevent such disorder from happening again. In the interim report, published in November 2011, we stated that urgent action was needed. It is encouraging that several recommendations that we made have been addressed.
Actions to reform stop-and-search procedures and speed up payouts from the Riot (Damages) Act, plus a commitment to improving emergency planning, have all been recognised as highly important steps forward.
The panel’s conclusions were based on findings gathered in a national listening exercise, in which we visited 20 areas and engaged with thousands of people. We estimate that between 13,000 and 15,000 individuals were actively involved in the riots, which spread with unprecedented speed. The riots were not about or caused by any single issue. However, we concluded that had the police response been more robust in Tottenham, and subsequently across London, the explosion of violence would not have happened elsewhere in England.
We also explored the link between deprivation and rioting, as well as the role of values and parenting. We found that 70% of those arrested live in the 30% most deprived areas. Further research has been commissioned to establish how the rioters’ backgrounds influenced their actions. While deprivation is not an excuse for criminal behaviour, we must tackle the underlying causes of the riots, which is why the panel has been communicating with the government, the police, charities and think tanks. We have been considering how to help young people into work, and exploring the role of consumerism. Conspicuous consumption and self worth have become increasingly intrinsically linked. The ownership of luxury branded goods confers instant status. It is perhaps unsurprising that these goods became the rioters’ main objective. We are keen to see whether there is an opportunity to engage with brands to use their powerful creativity to help leverage the aspiration to ‘own’ to a broader narrative.