From: Sean Vernell and Tom Hickey (National Executive of the University and Colleges Union), and Jeremy Corbyn, M.P., and John McDonnell, M.P.
We have heard much from yourself and members of your Government about the reasons for the rioting that has spread across Britain. You put it down to “criminality”, “greed” and lack of “parental control”. You treat it as a moral failing of the individuals and their families, as a ‘loss of values’. It is as if there did not exist a political and social context.
Anyone attempting to understand why thousands of young people have taken to the streets and rioted needs to begin by locating young people’s anger in the conditions of austerity in which the young – and working people in general - are being made to pay for a crisis that is not of their making. Yet anyone who does attempt to explain the rioting in these terms is accused of justifying looting as if it were a solution to a social crisis that is the consequence of your policies. There is a difference, Prime Minister, between explanation and justification.
Government ministers have been wheeled out to denounce young people and any parallel to the riots of the 1980s has been denied. It is clear, however, that many of the issues, which are now acknowledged about the 1980s riots by these same Government ministers, are the same issues that have fuelled today’s riots. Issues such as unemployment, lack of educational opportunities, police harassment, racism and public spending cuts are at the root of the problem.
In many cases young people feel even more alienated from society than they did 30 years ago. Unemployment for 16-25 year olds has become institutionalised throughout the subsequent period, reaching 1 million today. No less than 75,000 young people are statutorily homeless. No less than 600,000 live in overcrowded homes. There are more black people in our prisons today than are in our universities. Young black people are still disproportionately represented amongst the unemployed, the homeless, the criminalized, and the marginalized and disconnected. Yet you and your ministers speak as if racism is no longer a feature of our society.
There are only 11,000 youth clubs left after the closure programme of the 1980s, and three quarters of 11-16 year olds do not have an access to a youth club. Why do young employees not have a statutory right to paid educational leave, and why do they not have the right of representation on workplace training committees so that they have some sense of control of their destiny? Why is our society driving up the hours that we work instead of having a maximum of a 30-hour week that would allow employment to be spread, offering employment to a larger number of young people. Why are there so few decision-making forums in which young people can be involved?
What has been your government’s response to this? Universities have been allowed to triple tuition fees making it almost impossible for working class people to attend. The Educational Maintenance Allowance, which previously ensured that many were able to attend college, has been abolished. Police powers have been increased leading to more young people being harassed and imprisoned. Unemployment rises inexorably. Now you make the risible suggestion that the consequent disaffection can be overcome through the use of water cannon, plastic bullets, and more draconian sentencing by the courts.
These riots have revealed the issues that need to be addressed urgently if our young people are to feel they have a future. As educationalists and trade unionists we call upon your Government to put significant resources into ensuring that young people have real hope, a hope that matches the opportunities that one of the richest countries in the world should be providing for all its young, and not just for the children of the wealthiest.
We demand that you address this problem seriously, and implement the following policies:
• the restoration of the EMA and the 80% HE funding cut, and scrapping of tuition fees;
• the ending of public spending cuts in general;
• repeal of the stop and search laws;
• that Job Seekers Allowance to be raised to a minimum of £110 per week;
• that an urgent building programme for properly-stafffed Youth Clubs be put in place;
• a reversal of the cuts in schools, Further and Adult Education.