Image by the Prime Minister's Office via Flickr
Iain Duncan Smith Discusses Welfare Reform with Sainsbury’s Staff
The BBC today reports a study by the LSE for the Guardian newspaper into the summer riots.
The study interviewed 270 rioters to try and understand why they took part in the rioting.
Their conclusion is that it was above all “anger at the police” that drove the rioters.
Of the 270 people interviewed, 85% said policing was an “important” or “very important” factor in why the riots happened.
They repeatedly expressed frustrations about their daily interactions with the police, saying that they felt hassled, bullied and complaining that they were not treated as equals.
Seventy per cent of the rioters said they had been stopped and searched in the last year.
And time and again interviewees described the violence as a chance to get back at the police.
Well, if 70% of the sort of people who get involved in riots were stopped and searched during the previous year, it seems at least that the police stop and search is targetting the right people. Is it really surprising that the sort of people who are happy to smash shop windows and loot the contents have little respect for the police?
It is, I suppose, also not surprising that the Guardian would seek to blame rioting on the police. The BBC article duly drones on about “police tactics”.
The results of this survey actually go much deeper than that.
The police are a symbol of the society in which the rioters live. The rioters are, in fact, alienated from the whole of society, and not just from the police. At the time of the riots, well-meaning chattering class types spent a lot of time wondering why anyone would choose to smash up their own communities. I suspect the people involved actually do not think of those places as “their” communities, any more than they think of the police as “their” police – as people in more peaceful kinds of places normally do.
The reasons for the alienation are many, and go back ultimately to what the Prime Minister has described as our “broken society”.
The dynamic is one of broken homes, families without fathers, and a culture of welfare entitlement. The latter goes with the rest of it. In normal societies, people see a link between work, income and providing for your family and yourself. Never mind if you are “only” a shelf stacker at Tesco – if that job provides the money that feeds your kids, then your life has a worth and value, and you can derive a pride and a place in society from that.
Socialists will say that there are no jobs. The truth is different. Companies cannot get the employees they need, and sometimes prefer immigrants to local people. Why? Because the local people have the wrong attitude. They don’t really want those jobs. Why not? Because in their minds, there is no connection between the obtaining of possessions including necessities like food, and working. Food is a right; a job is just an alternative way of obtaining it.
If all material possessions come from State handouts by entitlement, then the connection between obtaining those things and working for them is broken, and one of the bonds that hold families together is broken.
If a father (or indeed a mother) is not responsible for the material well-being of their children, because the State provides, then one of their key roles in the family is removed – indeed, one of the purposes of the family itself is removed. The State has then usurped the role of the family, but carries out that role without any love or personal involvement, according to bureaucratic processes and forms.
In turn, fathers especially become irrelevant – mothers supply love and the State supplies money. That’s fine – until the kids grow up and notice that the people who do work have more than they do.
If all that you have comes from a State handout, it is easy to believe that possessions and material wealth are an entitlement rather than something to be earned. If you then see other people who have much more than you, you will see that as unfair. You will not imagine that those other people’s material well-being came from working for it; you will believe it came from an unfair decision to award those other people extra that you don’t have.
And then the problem spreads out. Those from better backgrounds see “welfare scroungers” getting handouts from the State, while they, who work for a living, get none and pay high taxes to boot. They too get the message that society is unfair, that there is no connection between the work they do and the possessions they have or even their ability to obtain the necessities of life.
In turn, their commitment to the rules that bind us together as a society is weakened. They may even find themselves deciding that if those scroungers have big-screen televisions – whether through rioting or otherwise – well then, they who work should certainly have the same.
Finally, of course, one of the prime functions of the police is to protect property, and to protect society in general. If society is unfair, and the possession of property is allocated at random, then the police automatically become an agent perpetuating the unfairness.
This problem is not a policing problem. It goes much, much deeper. We have a very nasty underclass, especially in our inner cities, for whom society and community mean nothing. That is not their fault. They have grown up amidst the wreckage caused by the decline of morals, religion, the family and everything that holds our society together. But the root cause, the very root cause, is the welfare state itself. For too many people, it has destroyed the link between work and material possessions, destroyed the family and destroyed the bonds that hold communities together.
It is easy to be pessimistic, to give up and say that our society is in terminal decline, as many on the Right do. It is also easy, as the Guardian and many on the Left often do, to go for glib and quick answers like blaming police tactics.
Neither of those has much appeal for me. Let’s at least try and sort this mess out. We need to get the Left to understand that their welfare state has caused these problems. We also need to get the Right to understand that simply writing off the underclass, and using force to keep them under control, is a recipe for ultimate collapse.
I do not belong to his Party, or even support it, but listening to Iain Duncan Smith in many interviews, I believe he understands what needs to be done, and is trying to make a start doing it.
His welfare reforms will not tackle the hard core of disaffected youth who took part in those riots. But they will start to nibble away at the margin, at the edges of the problem, encouraging people on the edge of worklessness to get out and work – and ultimately it is the concept that people need to work for a living that will stop future riots.
It is a bit like “no tolerance” policing. If you always tackle minor crimes like vandalism, you end up with less murder and armed robbery. Similarly, if you can nudge a few people to get out and work who would otherwise be on the dole, the core problem will diminish. It is social pressure to work that gets people to work instead of scrounge; the more people are out at work, the greater that social pressure will be.
In future, the government (of whichever party) will need to build on Mr Duncan Smith’s plans and go much further. The Guardian will not like that, and they will rant against it, but it is the only way to put things back together again. “Making work pay” has been a slogan of both parties for years – but truly making work pay actually means making not working not pay. And that is the hard part.
We should therefore support those reforms. Sure, there is a much simpler way to do the means testing, via the tax system, and the civil service petty turf wars between the Deopartment for Work and Pensions and HMRC stop that even being considered. Sure, as a result of that, Mr Duncan Smith’s civil servants have told him they need a massive new IT system to implement the reforms. But the reforms are the first attempt since the War to do what needs to be done.
Mr Duncan Smith is in the front line, fighting against the greatest problem of our age – greater even than the government deficit. We should be in the trench beside him.