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End clustering of betting shops on our high streets

First published on The Independent Blogs, Tuesday 28 February

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street?

The high streets of the UK have been hit extremely hard from all sides lately. If competing with out of town shopping centres and the boom in internet shopping wasn’t enough, the 5,200 shops that closed last year because of the recession is another example of the old saying that bad news comes in threes.

It has become all too common in the UK to find clusters of similar shops in certain areas. All too often there is a string of bookmakers, kebab houses, tanning salons, with little diversity in between. Very few would argue that streets filled with similar shops make the area appealing to potential buyers.

A ComRes survey found that over half of participants in England and Wales felt that clusters of sex and betting shops had a negative impact on high streets. A further 36 per cent said the same of tanning salons and fast food outlets.

Last week Southwark Borough Councillor Rowenna Davis sent an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, highlighting that there are 77 bookmakers in her constituency.

“What’s happening is they are clustering in particularly poor areas,” she explains, “so we are pushing for the government to respond to Mary Portas’s high street review by giving more powers back to councils.”

Davis is not the only person to speak up for our town centres. MP David Lammy has expressed concerned that in his constituency of Tottenham there are 39 bookies and not a single bookshop. And even Boris Johnson has written to Mr Pickles to demand more powers for councils to counter clustering.

Chairman of the LGA, Sir Merrick Cockell explains, “Currently councils are powerless to prevent betting shops setting up.”

Clusters spring-up because of planning laws allow stores with the same ‘use’ license  to replace each. This means that when an independent café, shop or bank closes down, there is nothing the council can do about a new one opening, no matter how many shops of that kind there are already.

The principle is the same for betting shops. Currently they fall into the same category as banks, which are financial services. It means banks can be changed into betting shops without local authorities having any say in it.

The LGA is campaigning for a new ‘use’ class, or ‘super’ planning class as Sir Merrick describes it, for premises of potential future concern to local authorities. Each council would be able to add to this new class premises which their residents believe have a negative impact to their high streets.

This call seems to be widely echoed by the public, 63 per cent said they would be in favour of the government giving more power to councils to tackle clustering. But nearly three quarters of respondents were in favour of giving more powers to councils to help shape the high street based on communities’ wishes.

The public also has some strong opinions about what they would like on their high streets too. Nearly 80 per cent felt local producers would be important to the future success of their high street, followed by over 70 per cent feeling retail stores and local amenities would too.

Last year Mary Portas recommended the government to address the restrictive ‘use class’ system to make changing property uses easier, and suggested that betting shops have a ‘use class’ of their own. The rationale behind this was that many vacant lots were not being filled because changing the use required planning permission. By separating betting from the financial service class this would mean that every betting shop would have to apply for planning permission if they were changing the use of premises.

With the Department for Communities and Local Government building up to launch its response to Portas’s recommendations, a spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing ‘change of use’ and are considering views expressed on this, including betting shops.”

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It’s not pretty, but it works – Why charities use street fundraisers

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance but is vital to charities in the UK

Charity muggers - chuggers - at work on the high streets

Charity begins at home,” runs the mantra, and at times almost everyone must have wished for some benevolent benefactor to help them in some way. It is hard to get worked up about famine in Africa, or deforestation in Indonesia when you’re worried about how you’ll afford your winter heating bills.

But these issues are being thrown in the face of shoppers on high streets across the country. Typically touted by long-haired, ever-smiling youths, charities have taken over the streets to win over the hearts and minds of the British public. Commonly dubbed ‘chugging’ (charity mugging), the voluntary sector calls it face-to-face-fundraising.

Almost everyone has gotten annoyed with being harangued in the street. Why anyone would think that because you’re carry a dozen heavy bags, soaked to the skin in the rain, and powering home that you want to stop and discuss world poverty is a mystery. But teams of fundraisers are spread across the country on a daily basis trying to bring supporters into their fold.

It has now come to a head in Islington. Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and parking, has spoken out against the sheer number of fundraisers operating in the Borough.

People regard it as excessive and a nuisance,” he says. “We’re not talking about hundreds of thousands, but scores of complaints.”

The majority of people of Islington seem tired of charity fundraising in their area. A recent Daily Telegraph poll suggests that 58 per cent of people want it banned in London.

Out on Upper Street, my quick stroll poll found that 64 people thought there were too many fundraisers in Islington, compared to 26 who didn’t. Leaving 10 per cent who said they didn’t think there were more in Islington than anywhere else.

Cllr Convery is clear that they do not want to ban street chugging. They are campaigning for it to be regulated by local authorities rather than independent organisations like the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).

This is the only type of street canvassing that is regulated privately,” he says. “Every other type of on-the-street activity requires a license except fundraising.”

The PFRA liaises with councils and charities to decide where, when and how often fundraising can take place.

But all this chugger-bashing has obscured why people in out in the street in all weathers, day-in and day-out, in the first place: they are raising the necessary funds for charities to continue their work.

It can be annoying to be approached by a charity, but as PFRA spokesman Ian MacQuillian explains: “It’s a myth that people give to the charities they give to without being asked.”

He highlights that chuggers are not taking donations there and then, but signing members up to regular direct debit payments, pledges of a set amount on a regular basis. These are widely regarded by charities as the most effective way to monitor and budget their contributions. Fundraising in this way breaks-even after two or three years and can return £2.50 for every £1 invested.

PFRA figures show that during 2010-11 street fundraising brought in over 170,000 supporters to their charities. It shows that despite the huffing and puffing of councils and the public, a great many people do stop and contribute to chuggers.

Mike Blakemore, media director at Amnesty international UK says: “It is an important for all organisations and it provides an opportunity to speak to members of the public that we wouldn’t meet otherwise.”

Despite the chagrin that many people experience when approached on the street, Mr Blakemore says only 0.04 per cent of the people their fundraisers spoke to complained.

Amnesty stands firmly behind keeping the PFRA regulating street fundraising.

Council’s shouldn’t be able to decide which charities can fundraise,”says Mr Blakemore.

He believes that to shift regulation from the PFRA would lead to more expensive administration for councils, and could result in arbitary decisions about which charities could fundraise.

Many would argue that the decision to give or not is purely down to the individual. This sentiment is echoed by Mr Blakemore: “It is a very personal thing and people are capable of making that decision on their own.”

Islington Council and the PFRA are in talks over the issue in the Borough. But both, and many other interested parties are awaiting Lord Hodgson’s ongoing review of the 2006 Charities Act. At present he is listening to the parties involved and the general public, and after the consultation period ends in April his final report will be awaited with bated breath before the summer recess.

At a time when the economy is sagging and public sector funding is tight, it seems a no-brainer for councils to take on the regulation of charity fundraising. And with household income being squeezed from all directions, the decision to give or not give to charities might safely be left to the general public.

 

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance, but it is vital for charites

Chuggers at work on the UK's high streets

Is sacrificing democracy for the markets worth the cost?

November 17, 2011 1 comment

We were told the other day at work that it is against health and safety to bring a cup of tea upstairs from the kitchen to the call centre. This is because we could spill it on the stairs (or ourselves), and cause someone to slip. Fair enough, I’m not here to argue against that, but would it be an arrestable offence to take a cup of tea upstairs?

I somehow doubt it.

So I was a little shocked with how innocuous the news was that the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York had been evicted. When peaceful protests are being clamped down on by governments I’d think it would get more coverage.

In less than three hours the camp had been dismantled and cleaned and over 200 people arrested. It was explained that the plans had been drawn up a few weeks ago, but it was only yesterday that Mayor, Michael Bloomberg decided that the presence of the protesters was offensive enough for him to give the go-ahead for their removal.

It seems like Bloomberg has cited public health and safety concerns as the reason that people were evicted, but is it now an arrestable offence to breach health and safety?

Democratic protests are demolished by an integrated ruling elite

As OLSX is threatened eviction, the bankers they campaign against are put in charge in Europe

Like my cup of tea at work, which I continue to take upstairs because I feel that not having a cup of tea at my desk breaches my natural rights, it seems like the rights of protesters are being trampled as equally in the West as they were before the Arab Spring in the East.

Is it behind a wall of health and safety procedures that democracy dies? Is the right to peaceful protest is only available when it’s convenient or if it doesn’t go on too long?

And yesterday the City of London Corporation has re-launched its bid to remove the protesters from outside St Paul’s. Now the protesters are determined to have another go, but with the camps being raided and dismantled across the globe by somewhat surly councillors and politicians, I have my doubts about their likelihood to succeed in achieving anything.

The message from the top, or The US Supreme Court at least, is that our inalienable right to peaceful protest only goes so far as our leaders are willing to let it. This defeats the purpose if our leaders are the ones being complained about. We can protest the war in Iraq, the cuts to tuition fees, anything we like, as long as we are prepared to be clamped down on by the police, or watch our next generation be kettled, or move when the police tell us to.

Last week, the students held another demo against fees, and from the pictures it basically looked like a giant police training exercise in kettling people. The crowd was surrounded by officers, and not allowed to deviate from the path. Any attempt to meet up with other blocks of resistance was nipped in the bud.

Am I the only one who is scared?

And not just because the ruling elite are showing that their silk gloves are actually steel gauntlets, but because the gradual integration of our ruling elite, the media, and the financial sector.

We now have bankers in charge of Italy and Greece, in the shape of Messrs Monti and Papademos. Surely the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 showed the inability of the financial sector to look out for any interests other than their own? If not, then maybe the outrage at stricter ring-fencing, or just generally their refusal to make any changes to the system that has made a few billions.

The only thing which used to allow me to sleep easy at night is the distinction between the groups that control our world – the financial sector, the politicians, the media, and religion.

Many could claim that the influence of religion is negligible, but what religion and the media both do is perpetuate the myths our society lives by. Our politicians control the legislation our lives are limited by, and the financial sector moves the money our lives rely on. Separate and monitored, we have nothing to fear, but nowadays politicians are unafraid to be religious, or in bed with the media, the protests are being condemned by priests, and financial leaders are now being begged by the markets they control to take charge of governments.

It should worry everyone that market driven leaders are ending up on our political shelves. We have the right to vote our leaders in – even if as pointed out by Archie Bland in the I Paper: “There is nothing to stop total idiots trying to be leader of the free world.” We did not vote for technocrats, and neither did the Italians and Greeks. Although they say it is in everyone’s best interests, it is in the interests of the markets first and foremost that they have taken charge, and these are what they will protect.

I can only see it as a conflict of interests if in any democratic country the needs of the few are subservient to the needs of the many. But this is what is happening. Our Government is determined to keep the markets happy and Europe is begging technocrats to take charge, effectively breaking the democratic process. It may not be the end of the world now, but it sets a scary precedent. And, even if they sort it out, how do we know that power will filter back down?

We should all be afraid, not just youths, students, trade unionists, protesters, communists and anarchists. As I wrote a few weeks ago, it is the quiet acquiescence of the many that allows a minority of partisans, with sycophantic or selfish interests, to take control. We all have our heads so buried in the sand that we can’t see that the foundations of democracy, our most sacred ideology, are being undermined for the needs of capitalism. Surely it should be the other way round.

 

 

Commuting ‘cheaper’ than buying close to work – but only if you live in London

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

This was my crowning glory at Thisismoney.co.uk. The press release came in and I spent hours going through the figures, making sure I’d got the data right for the piece, which was published first thing on the Saturday as the lead news story – lucky me.

Thanks, as always, to Thisismoney.co.uk for letting me print it.

Report suggests living outside London and commuting is cheaper for commuters.

Cost saving: Commuting into London is often much cheaper than living in the city

London workers are making big savings by commuting rather than living near work, according to a study looking at house prices.

But the same benefits are not seen around all other major cities.

Commuters living in Home Counties – an hour outside of London – own homes £375,000 cheaper than those in the city.

The study found that with a rail season ticket costing £4,400 a year, commuters from towns like Peterborough and Swindon could afford to travel to work in London for over 80 years with the savings they’ve made on their properties.

The average house price in Reading and Milton Keynes, half an hour outside London, is £275,000, while a property in Central London is £620,000.

Travellers from these locations have shorter journey times and cheaper rail tickets of around £3,100 a year. Their homes – and repayments – are typically 66 per cent lower.

 Residents in Wimbledon and other outer boroughs, only 15 minutes from the city centre, are paying on average £300,000 less for their accommodation, with commuting estimated at only £1,400 a year.

The study by mortgage lender Halifax does not take central London tube fare prices into account.

‘It’s no surprise, for London at least, that the longer your commute, the larger the difference in house prices,’ said Nitesh Patel, a housing economist at Halifax.

‘The decision to commute is not simply a trade-off between financial costs and journey times.’

Social factors such as better schools and quality of homes can explain why commuters would prefer to travel greater distances to get to work.

However, commuters living near other major cities in the UK do not always find the same pay-offs.

In Birmingham, the average cost of housing within the city is actually cheaper than in local towns 30 minutes away. Residents in these towns will be paying an extra £1,500 a year to commute on top of an extra £10,000 on their houses.

Of course, those who bought in the centre of London in previous decades are likely to have seen a bigger increase in the value of their home than those in the Home Counties, with those buyers getting an excellent return rather than pumping their hard-earned money into train fares.

The cost of rail travel is set to increase dramatically next year. This is due to changes in the way increases to train ticket fares are calculated.

Whereas previously fare increases were based on the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation, with train firms given leeway to add up to one per cent on top, from July this year, train companies are now allowed to add up to three per cent.

With the RPI inflation figure remaining at five per cent, commuters could see their transport costs soar up to eight per cent next year. But, because the rises can be calculated as an average across all fares, this means that some fares could skyrocket, whilst others remain relatively stable.

This week, the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, added his voice to the clamour, saying that trains have become a ‘rich man’s toy’, with some fares becoming ‘eye-wateringly’ expensive.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the charity Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Far from being simply “a rich man’s toy” trains are also vital for many of those on more moderate incomes who need to get to work.’

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-2038282/Commuting-cheaper-buying-close-work–live-London.html#ixzz1YgrDQVSB

British expats vow to stay abroad despite squeeze on incomes

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s another article I did for Thisismoney.co.uk during my time with them. It was a really interesting piece, even though it came from a press release because I had no idea the squeeze on incomes was so tight on our expats. As you ca nsee from the comments links at the botton, it cause a wee bit of a debate, or at least more of a debate than anything I’ve written before has. Made me think about escaping the UK myself.

Thanks to Thisismoney.co.uk for letting me reprint it.

British expats are feeling the financial squeeze

Worth it: More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey by Moneycorp

More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey.

The study, by currency dealer Moneycorp, shows that over 50 per cent of expats say that while they moved abroad for a better standard of living, their incomes have actually plummeted since the economic downturn.

Despite these factors, nine out of ten expats said that they would continue to live abroad, with 25 per cent saying that they would rather move to another country before considering moving back to the UK.

The fall in incomes could be attributed to two factors: the decline of the British pound against other currencies; or the fact that many expats living off state pensions find their income is not index-linked.

 In 2007 an expat could expect to move to Europe with an annual income of £10,000 and see a return of £16,500, whereas in the current economic climate, the same amount would return just £11,000.

As reported earlier this year, in non-EU countries, like relocation hotspots USA and Australia, British citizens’ pensions are frozen as soon as they retire.

This means that a 65-year-old who retired in Australia today on a pension of £102.15 would still be receiving £102.15 in 2028. If inflation in these countries remains constant, then, according to online currency broker Currencies.co.uk, the value of these pensions could drop by half in just 17 years.

John Lawson, of Standard Life, says: ‘Retiring abroad is a dream for many people, but does require careful planning and advice.  Many people think living abroad is cheaper than living in the UK, but this isn’t always the case.’

The Moneycorp survey shows that many British expats are willing to shoulder the burden of lower incomes to retain their lifestyle while 80 per cent said they believed their children’s lives had improved.

David Kerns, Private Client Dealing Manager at Moneycorp said that although many Britons are happy overseas and enjoying a better quality of life, they are suffering from a rise in living costs and wanted to know more about transfer fees when moving funds abroad.

He advised expats:  ‘Speak to currency specialists to guard against adverse fluctuations. By locking into favourable exchange rates for up to two years, expats can protect themselves against the pound losing further value, as well as avoiding potentially costly transfer fees.’

He added: ‘Over a series of payments, these savings can run into the thousands of pounds.’

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2037381/British-expats-vow-stay-abroad-despite-squeeze-incomes.html#ixzz1YgqBgUnb

A-Z of the money pages: From making the most of your offset mortgage to rising energy bills

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

This article was produced for Thisismoney.co.uk, a personal finance website and supplement for the Mail on Sunday. It is by their kind permission that I reprint it.

A round up highlights of personal finance and consumer news from the weekend newspapers.

A round up of the weekends big finance stories

The Sunday Papers

 

The Observer

The Peter Pan generation of adults paid £3.4billion by Bank of Mum and Dad

A report has revealed that more than 13million parents are paying out over £34billion a year in loans and gifts to support their adult children.

The average loan or gift was estimated at £2,480 a year, with the most money being given to adult children between 35 and 39.

Research suggests that £8.4billion was handed-out for mortgage payments, £3.5billion for home improvements, £2.2billion to pay off debts and £1.6billion to pay for education.

Labelled the ‘Peter Pan generation’, the research done on behalf of Sainsbury’s Finance indicates that many children are still dependent on their

Dark days for consumers with two energy rises in a week

Consumers could be facing an expensive winter as five of the UK’s biggest energy suppliers are set to make increases of up to 19 per cent to their tariffs this week.

EON has announced it will raise its standard tariffs for gas by 18 per cent and 11 per cent for electricity on Tuesday. This would see household bills for the year rise by £114 and £56 respectively.

Scottish and Southern Energy will increase standard tariffs by 19 and 12 per cent for gas and electricity on Wednesday, piling £122 and £52 a year on to bills. Only EDF Energy out of the big five hasn’t confirmed its intentions.

Consumer comparison site uSwitch.com advises consumers to move to dual fuel, pay by direct debit and sign up to an online plan to help reduce their winter bills. 

The Sunday Telegraph

Brussels directive to cost jobs

Almost a third of temporary employees could lose their jobs in the run up to Christmas if the new European rules are not diluted a study warns.

The EU Agency Workers Directive comes into effect on 1 October and would give temporary staff the same pay and benefits as permanent workers after working at the company for over 12 weeks. The new law could cost businesses in Britain up to £1.6billion a year.

The study, by Allen & Overy, suggests that up to a third of employers will attempt to avoid the new rules by terminating workers’ contracts in their 11th week. The law firm estimates that up to 462,000 of the UK’s 1.4million temporary workers could be made redundant in mid-December.

The CBI and other industrial bodies warn that unless the UK government moves to dilute parts of the new law, then it couldn’t come at a worse time for the country.

Inflation to rise as energy bills soar

Leading economists expect that a rise in inflation this week will not reduce the chances of a second bout of quantitative easing (QE) from the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

Annual inflation is forecast to rise on the consumer price index (CPI) from 4.4 per cent in July to 4.5 per cent in August. The retail price index (RPI) is expected to rise from 5.0 per cent to 5.1 per cent over the same period. The figures continue to be unwelcome for the MPC as they continue to fail to meet their 2 per cent target.

The figures will be published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday. With Scottish Gas raising its gas and electricity tariffs at the beginning of last month this is expected to filter through to the CPI in September.

Economists at Investec, a specialist bank and asset manager, have said they expect the MPC to start QE as soon as October because the risks of growth are so severe.

Google chief predicts UK jobs boom

The European head of Google has said that the UK is on the verge of an internet boom that could create over 350,000 jobs over the next five years.

Philipp Schindler spoke out ahead of the Telegraph’s Festival of Business in Manchester where he is a keynote speaker. He commented that even though the current economic climate is tough, internet-related companies and businesses that use the internet successfully were still growing.

The web is responsible for a fifth of Britain’s GDP growth. Economists working for Google based their estimates on the current economic forecasts for growth of GDP in UK and the current rate of job creation that is associated to a rise in GDP.

In light of these figures, Mr Schindler added that the estimate of 365,000 jobs being created was on ‘the conservative side’.

The Sunday Times

Thousands on claims blacklist

A Sunday Times investigation has found that tens of thousands of consumers could find their insurance policies are invalid because they have made inquiries to other providers, even if they never made an actual claim.

All calls to insurers are recorded at a central database known as the Claims and Underwriting Exchange (Cue). The problem arises because many providers don’t check the cue database when an application is made, only when a claim is put in. This has resulted in many consumers being accepted for cover, only to find their policy is invalid when they make a claim, because they are not aware that any claim inquiry (potential loss) has to be declared.

New laws to ban insurers denying claims and cancelling policies for minor and unintentional errors on application are to be debated in the House of Lords next month. These would force insurers to ask clearer questions on the outset.

Your guide to beating inflation

After the National Savings and Investments (NS&I) pulled its popular savings certificates last week the Sunday Times has looked at what alternatives are available.

The NS&I were the only company to offer a tax-free return greater than the rate of inflation and guaranteed by the government.

But companies like the Post Office offer inflation-linked bonds with a three-year return of 0.5 points above the annual change in the retail price index (RPI) and a five-year plan paying 1.5 points above RPI. However the accounts are taxable and consumers do not have the same freedom to withdraw funds compared to the NS&I.

Candidmoney.com has found that potential returns from the Post Office bonds are beaten by those of five-year fixed-rate Isas. The best five-year fixed-rate Isa is from BM Savings, which pays out at 4.25billion per cent, returning £6,157 on a £5,000 deposit.

Make the most of your offset

First Direct and Barclays cut their offset mortgage rates last week to tempt borrowers.

Offset mortgages allow buyers to set their savings against their loans, and by giving up the interest on their savings they make savings on the interest on their mortgage. This could benefit all sorts of buyers including parents, the self-employed, landlords and first-time buyers.

By putting their savings for children’s school fees against their mortgages, and toping it up with income when required, parents with a £500,000 mortgage and £75,000 in savings could save up to £2,625 a year compared to £1,687 in an instant-access account.

Self-employed could hold their as yet unpaid taxes against their loans, offsetting it against their mortgage until the taxes are to paid, while landlords can offset their own mortgage from the rent the claim on other properties.

First-time buyers with wealthy relatives could make savings on their repayments. If a relative offsets £50,000 of savings against the loan repayments would fall from £1,215 a month to £911.

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2036565/A-Z-money-pages-From-making-offset-mortgage-rising-energy-bills.html

A World Gone Mad: Riots Without Reason? Riots Have Causes And We Must Address These To Avert Future Damage.

August 12, 2011 4 comments
Riots in Bristol as blazes appear across the city

A burning bin in Stokes Croft, Bristol, set alight by rioters on Monday night.

Is the age of peaceful protest dead? I am of the opinion that it probably is. Hundreds of thousands marched to protest Blair’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003; over 50,000 students, lecturers and university staff marched last November in London to protest the tripling of tuition fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA); on the 30th June this year, the Unions, including the NUT, UHC, UNISON, and RMT all marched in cities throughout the UK to peacefully protest about the cuts being made in their sectors. And what was the outcome of all these marches? No change in policy.

I am not one to condone violence of any kind, nor arson, nor brutality, but maybe these youngsters, branded as ‘dissidents’, ‘rioters’, ‘hoodlums’ or (in the Sun, ‘morons‘), have a point? If peaceful protests haven’t change the mind of our Government, then what form of protest is left to the public?

I reiterate that I do not condone the actions of the minority of vandals throughout our country that have destroyed the property, lives and cities of people for the last four days. But, when you realise that the kids who’s face’s have graced the Red Tops over the last few days have no union, no MP, no voice, it makes me wonder how else could they get their voices heard?

It all reminds sinisterly reminds of a poem, you’ll all know it:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me

It’s by Martin Niemöller and is meant to define the sentiments of the intellectuals in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. In the present context, I feel it could more correctly by read as:

First they came for the students,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a student..

Then they came for the pensioners,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a pensioner.

Then they came for the unemployed,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t unemployed.

Then they came for the youth,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t young.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

What we have seen is the systematic breaking down of our society by a Government that clearly has no idea of what is going on on streets all over the UK. First education, then Healthcare, then care workers, now the youth who are being demonified by our Government in what can only be seen as an attempt to ignore the mood of the people and plough on with there policies regardless of who is being affected. Our youth are fighting back, like students, like the unions, but instead of support, they are being condemned.

It was exactly the same with poor Charlie Gilmour and Edward Woollard, two young protesters who got carried away. Both have received custodial sentences, Gilmour 16 months and Woollard 32 months and it is apparent that in both cases the sentencing was pushed through by judges trying to appear strong in the face of a media and political storm of outrage demanding harsh punishment for the perpetrators of violence. But in this storm, one thing was forgotten, what it was that had pushed two middle class boys to commit acts of recklessness during peaceful protests. The answer is somewhere in the political mood of this country, and as pointed out by Matthew Norman in the Independent i Paper, it isn’t “criminality pure and simple” as Cameron claims. It is the complex mixture of a disenfranchised youth, a public sucked into the dream of consumerism based on adverts and political ideology, and a Government which is out of touch. As Norman observed, “The PM looks like a patrician one-nation Tory who has slipped through a tear in space-time, and emerged blinking and bamboozled from his comfy berth in the Fifties.’”

Harriet Harman, Deputy Labour Leader, has highlighted some the problems. The trebling of tuition fees, the cutting of the EMA, the rising of youth unemployment and closing of the Job Centres will all have contributed to a a feeling of social alienation, unhappiness and finally towards the riots. In her debate on Newsnight with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Harman stated:

“There is a sense that young people think they’re not being listened to. That is not to justify violence, but when you’ve got the trebling of tuition fees, when you’ve got the EMA taken away, when you’ve got jobs being cut and youth unemployment rising and you’re shutting the job centre, you should think again about that.”

Police Riot Squads are deployed to control the looting and violence.

Riot squads are deployed by police to control looting and vandalism in Bristol.

The psychology of the riots is summed up very nicely by Ian Leslie, author of ‘Born Liars’ in his blog. Noting that rioting is “imitative behaviour compressed and sped up,” Leslie believes that social media and 24 hour news allows the “madness of a febrile crowd to spread faster and further and with more fluidity than ever before.” So we have a generation of kids, with broken links to their local community, but strong links with like-minded individuals through Twitter, Facebook and other media, who can swap information almost instantly. This means, that when one or two started rioting and news spread through this online community, the rest would have felt justified to imitate the behaviour of their peers.

This is a generation with little to no respect for police, teachers and our Government, but it is a disrespect they all share, and could, theoretically, be said to be a reason to respect each other. Shared opinions can very easily lead to shared action. Hence riots have spread from the Borourghs of London to cities throughout the UK.

To say the riots were started by social media is probably incorrect. They were organised through social media, they were started through mutual disrespect and social injustice. What emphasises their lack of unity and political polarity is the fact that they attacks lack any focus, only a need to lash out.

To fight the Government or police can inspire sympathy in those who have been on the wrong end of their policies or activities, to attack a corporation shows they have a common goal, consumer capitalism. To take out your anger on everyday people and their livelihoods inspires outrage, and hence the current backlash again ‘scum’, ‘dissidents’ and ‘terrorists’.

There is the additional fact, that these are kids, which over the last few years have seen the moral breakdown of our media, banks and politicians. First we had the expenses scandal, with MPs taking advantage of the public purse for their own ends. Then the banking crisis, which would have been generally accepted as a mistake, if the top bankers weren’t still taking six-figure bonuses at a time when austerity sweeps the nation. And most recently there has been the phone-hacking expose. What this highlighted was that while everyday people’s phones were being hacked for snippets of information, the top journos, politicos and celebrities were sitting comfortably at a party in Chipping Norton deciding where to invest their capital.

And, what has been made clear by the media coverage, is that they all felt totally justified doing what they were doing, like it was owed to them – so why shouldn’t a generation of kids who have watched these kinds of crimes not feel justified to take their slice of pie, however violent it is? If the bankers can find a way to take their tax back, why shouldn’t (in their opinion) should these looters? I am not justifying them, but can no one see how they felt justified?

We need to think about this outrage before it gets out of hand. Zoe Williams in the Guardian today suggests that the impetus behind the riots could come from a social class or group that lives in the consumer capitalist world of adverts celebrity gossip and glorified lifestyles, which, hint clever advertisements, everyone must have, and, hints our Government and businesses and banks, everyone can have.

Hoody sets fire to a bin during riots in Bristol

A hoody begins a blaze in a wheely bin during riots on Monday night in Bristol

But can we all have it all? The answer to that is probably not. Especially, as Harman emphasises, with tripled tuition fees, no EMA and no jobs for young people. This, then will lead to a disenfranchised group of youngsters who feel they have no hope of getting either a degree, or a job, and therefore no hope in hell of reaching the heights of comfortable living that adverts and society accepts as the norm. Therefore, when they see our ruling elite taking what they want, they attack back in retribution. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but I don’t think any of us can, deep down, say it’s unexpected.

Everyone likes to live in a cosy bubble and indulge the myth: If I work hard, get my degree, get a job, I can buy my house, raise a family, have regular holidays, and put away a pension. But in living that myth, and striking out at anyone who harms the myth, we end up with a disillusioned minority who are under-represented. Like Woollard, or Gilmour, the public outrage from the myth-buyers will put these people in jail and allow us to go back to the bubble. But it doesn’t address why these people aren’t either in the bubble or accept the bubble themselves. We could just bang all the arrested rioters in jail and carry on with our lives, but does this change anything? Will this stop more future riots? I think the answer is no.

Our Government loves the myth. It means when people with actual grievances against their policies stand up to be counted they can shrug them off as a minority, while the rest of us bury our heads in the sand and it isn’t our job that is lost, or our pensions which disappear. But one day it will be. This is why the teachers are marching, the students are marching, the Unions are marching. But unless we left our heads up and accept that everyone deserves a place in this country there will always be inequality, always be injustice, and always be riots because the quite majority, pursuing it’s own agenda, will leave a trail of mess that someone has to pick up. It might not be our jobs now, or our pensions, but it is our country. We are all going to suffer at the hands of these austerity cuts, politicians and bankers excepted, but why can’t we stand with the protesters? If we all stood together, youths, students, unions and everyone else, then no one would have to riot. But the majority of people in this country want to lie back and take the cuts and hope it won’t affect them. This is why when people complain there is such outrage – not because anyone disagrees with them – but because they worry the protests will make their lives worse.

So instead of condemning the young for feeling unrepresented and alienated, lets sort out our system. Yes, lets punish the perpetrators of injustice, but lets not get back in the bubble, but address what has caused these riots. Let us build something better and use this as an opportunity for Britain to say no the destruction of our education system, our health service, our unemployment services. Let us say no to a country where we are all so scared for our jobs that we don’t give the young any hope of getting a job themselves. Let us say ‘no,’ to social inequalities and ‘yes,’ to putting this country back together.

Harmann calls on the Government to “be on the side of opportunities for young people, and jobs for young people.” Let’s all be on the side of young people. Let’s punish the perpetrators of these riots, but not without forethought, and never forgetting that there are complex reasons for these kind of outbreaks that a quick prosecution can’t brush under the dirty carpet.

I would like to thank Doulas Hook for his wonderful images taken from Monday nights riots and for giving me permission to use them in this piece. More of Douglas’ work can be found on his blog at: http://hookphoto.blogspot.com/