Riots One Year On: Have we done enough to prevent them happening again?

In 2011, Britain was shocked by the violence of the riots but have the government done enough to prevent it from happening again? What steps are being taken? And why are young people so often blamed?

The Youth Agenda talks to Tom Lawson, CEO of Leap Confronting Conflict, Gavin Barwell, Conservative MP for Croydon Central and David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and Shadow Higher Education Minister.

About the riots

On 7 August 2011, riots broke out in Tottenham, London, after a peaceful protest following the death of a local man, Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by police on 4 August 2011. The violence began after large numbers of police arrived to disperse the protesters.

Rioting quickly spread through London, with violence escalating. Over the next three days there were clashes with police, shops were looted and set on fire along with vehicles and homes, and rioting spread to Birmingham and the West Midlands, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Bristol and other areas of the UK.

Parliament was recalled on 11 August 2011 to tackle the situation. There were a total of 3,443 crimes linked to the disorder across London, and an estimated £200 million worth of property damage incurred.  Over 4,000 arrests have been made so far.

Along with five deaths, at least sixteen members of the public were injured, as were 186 police officers and five police dogs.

Coordinating government responses

The Youth Agenda spoke to Tom Lawson, CEO of Leap Confronting Conflict, which works with young people to prevent the escalation of everyday conflict into destructive behaviour and violence.

Tom believes we should be working to understand the causes of the rioting, as well as trying to prevent them from happening again in the future.

He says the government is making ‘some good recommendations about the importance of coordinating responses’ but that they should be doing more to coordinate government services with volunteer and business services to tackle unemployment. But, he says, ultimately ‘the recommendations don’t go far enough.’

Tom strongly believes that we need a ‘much greater focus and attention on 18-24-year-olds … they’re the group with the least support’.

Deeply rooted causes

Most people agree that the riots were the result of a number of factors and that there are deep seated issues that need to be addressed. David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, where the riots originally started, told The Youth Agenda:

‘The thing that all the rioters have in common is that they don’t have enough of a stake in society that makes them stop and think, ‘I don’t want to get involved in this’. So unemployment, poor housing, little money, little prospects – those are things that mean people don’t have a stake in society and can lead them to find themselves caught up in rioting.’

David believes it is wrong to blame young people for the riots, saying ‘the vast majority of young people and young adults did not participate in the riots’.

When The Youth Agenda spoke to Gavin Barwell, Conservative MP for Croydon Central, he cited gang culture, issues with the criminal justice system, and ‘an issue about relations between young people and the police, particularly young black men and the police, and how stop and search operates’ as some of the underlying causes of the riots.

Prevention and change

With cut backs in youth services it will become increasingly difficult to help young people in communities, especially in housing estates.

Gavin believes that in order to prevent rioting in the future we need to ‘improve the relationship between young people and the police’. At the same time, he says we need to deter rioters by sending a ‘clear message’ that they will be properly punished for their actions.

Why are young people being blamed?

One thing both David Lammy and Gavin Barwell are adamant about is that young people should not be taking the full blame for the rioting and violence in London last summer.

David states: ‘It is wrong to describe these riots as about Britain’s young people. The vast majority of young people in Britain did not get caught up in the riots, and that includes the areas that were most affected.’

Gavin agrees, saying, ‘It’s very important to stress that it wasn’t just young people involved.’ He also says that young people in his constituency in Croydon are angry about the way they’ve been portrayed in the media:

‘I think unfortunately there’s a great tendency in our society to stereotype, and you see it in relation to teenagers … [teenagers are] trying to show older people that actually the vast majority of young people in Croydon aren’t like the stereotype at all – they’re decent, law-abiding kids, they’ve got talent, they’ve got ability, they’re the future of the town … in our society there is this generational divide and I think it’s very important that we unpick that.’


Related linksFor more information about what has happened since the riots

Leap Confronting Conflict

Project Change, Croydon

David Lammy speech at RSA

Riots Communities and Victims Panel

Interim report into the riots – ‘5 days in August’

Response from The Children’s Society

Young people can strengthen their communities – British Youth Council


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