Why do People Riot?

Let me begin by saying I have no academic qualifications in Sociology but I have been tempted to offer my tuppence worth after reading Daddacool’s considered article on the subject of the London Riots.

As many of you will have seen on Twitter there has been a splurge of questioning and theorising on why this has happened. The Mayor of London too has returned from holiday today asking “why?” and expressing his confusion.

I think the answers may be found by looking at the history of urban riots that have happened across the western world in the last hundred years or so.

Various studies highlight a riot starts with a specific incident. In the case of the London Riots 2011 we have the police shooting of Mark Duggan. 

Underneath these specific “moments” social disharmony will exist. Recurring themes for such social disharmony include: Police abuse and/or bias, lack of affordable housing, economic inequality, rapid demographic change, discrimination, high unemployment, and poor schools.

I tentatively suggest to Boris and the Government that an urgent exploration to the background of these riots by considering these core themes may be fruitful in finding the reasons and ultimately the right solutions to the problems we have in London today.

But to these, I would add one more “theme”.

Youth Unemployment

One in five young people (16 to 24) has NO job. That is 1 million young people living without any sense of responsibility and an increasing sense of frustration.

Unemployment is one thing – mass youth unemployment is quite another and we have never had youth unemployment figures like this in the UK!

House these unemployed young people in grim surroundings with nothing to do and little hope that things are going to get better, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out there will be trouble. Given the “herd” mentality that takes over during riots, there are just too many young people with nothing to lose.

Today, listening to the news, I have seen MPs scratching their heads and heard much talk of rubber bullets and water cannon and “bring in the army”, and journalists getting over excited at the use of Twitter and Blackberrys.

All nonsense!

As a country we need to find ways to solve youth unemployment. Quickly!

 Just my thoughts. As alluded to at the top of this article, I appreciate that finding reasons for such terrible behaviour will be complex and interwoven – but such enormous numbers of unemployed young people can’t be good for them or our country. What say you…










About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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7 Responses to Why do People Riot?

  1. Bob, it won’t come as a surprise to find that I agree with you 100%. My 21 year old, was messed about so by the Student Finance mismanagement that he gave up his degree course. They lost his birth certificate, wouldn’t accept his supporting documentation (written by a family friend who’s an ex-councillor, been a non-exec director on a NHS trust, etc), and wouldn’t pay the uni fees until he jumped through an infinite number of hoops. By the time we gave up trying to get his funding, he was depressed, suffering from anxiety attacks, you name it.

    Turns out that there’s no employment for a 21 year old with several A levels but no experience and no car!

    After a year of fruitless interviews and minimal support from the JobCentrePlus staff, who seemed to think the only criteria for sending 200 applicants for 1 vacancy was, “Can these applicants prove that they CAN’T do the job?”, thereby upsetting the businesses as well as the job seekers, my son was offered 9 hours per week in a supermarket warehouse. He’s taken it, because “It’s better than the humiliation of asking for Job Seekers Allowance.”

    He’s lucky; he has the loving support of his family and friends, a guaranteed roof over his head, three meals a day. There are so many young people out there who can’t rely on that.

    Water cannons and curfews are not a good solution; they are yet another erosion of our civil liberties. Our young people need guaranteed employment and on-the-job training, not just another political sop in the form of a few thousand apprenticeships. We need a guaranteed 2 year work placement for every single person between the ages of 18 and 24. Our children need to be able to be proud of their abilities, their skills and their communities. Right now, I’d settle for some form of National Service if that gave my children a future.

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you for these comments. The point you make about your son have the support of a loving family is spot-on. There are way too many children who simply don’t have this – and that is not their fault!

      Employment is SO important for young people – I hope the Government can sort this problem of youth unemployment out very very quickly!


  2. Liz says:

    Hi Bob, thank you for your considered response, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Some people ask why it is that some folk equally as poor and feeling so disenfranchised didn’t go out and riot with the rest of them. I can’t answer that, except that maybe they just have something a little more to hold on to. Those kids and they are children mostly, are not only struggling to fit into a society that doesn’t appear to care about them as well as high unemployment and lack of opportunity, that they really don’t have anything to lose. No they don’t care, yes they will hurt people, they have in fact become totally disconnected with their community. What totally amazes me is the knee jerk reaction from the rest of us ‘civilised’ folk. ‘Kill them all, scum.’ ‘Shoot the lot of them, use water cannon, throw them all in jail.’ And many other such comments. While I can understand the anger and fear – it’s not nice having having our thin veil of civility and comfort disturbed to reveal a darker undercurrent that we would rather pretend doesn’t exist – with such reactions are we any more ‘civilised’ than they are in our hearts? When you look beyond the violence and begin asking why? people stare at you as if you’re mad and think that you are condoning the violence, which is just ridiculous no one would condone that, people have died. But it frustrates me totally that it’s just about punishment and making these kids look inhuman, they are human beings and if for a moment they lost their humanity shouldn’t we be asking what we have done as a society to make that happen? People aren’t born bad. Our youth have always been a good barometer of the state of our society – this is worrying and something needs to be done. I just hope when all this settles down it will be positive changes rather than negative, and while I have hope, I fear our Government may do the worst. This is only my opinion, but if you tell someone they are worthless scum, bad, feral, inhuman often enough they will start to believe it, then act it. I feel deeply saddened by it all for those hurt by the riots and those doing the rioting and looting. There is so much young potential being lost.

    Sorry about the rant 🙂 but it’s good to see that my husband and I are not the only one asking questions and trying to see beyond the surface. Thanks, Liz.

    • onlydads says:

      Liz – this isn’t a rant. It is your comment that clearly comes from your head and your heart – and i hope a lot of people hear what you are saying.

      Thank you for such a thoughtful addition to this blog.

      Bob x

  3. Angelique says:

    I am writing from America, where we only see a glimpse of what is happening in England. However, I do remember there being a LOT of upset over the restructuring of University tuition not very long ago, yet another way that young people are boxed in so that they cannot find gainful employment. People who have had hope taken away will react violently if prompted. Could this also be a small part of this puzzle? My heart goes out to all of you. I wish you a speedy recovery and for this global monetary malaise to pass soon. Angelique

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you – the world economy does seem to be in a right mess – and young people are being raised at a moment in history where hope is in short supply.

      (I like getting comments from over the pond – please do drop by again!)


  4. mplo says:

    I, too am from the USA, and I believe that there are all kinds of reasons why people riot. Riots aren’t set off by one certain event or incident, although that particular event or incident can be, and is, all too often, the final spark that sets off the riots. In order for riots to occur, however, there has to be a whole cadre of people who’re disillusioned/disaffected for some reason(s) or other. It may be a combo of the lack of educational, employment and socioeconomic opportunities, racial and ethnic resentment, anger and frustration at leaders who they feel aren’t listening, discrimination, lack of the necessary amenities in life such as food, money and decent shelter, homelessness, and real or perceived threats to the system or systems that people have always known. Sometimes, however, people who are criminally inclined to begin with will use the conditions and the event(s) or incident(s) that served to be the catalyst that set off the riots in a tinderbox situation to begin with will use such event(s) or incident(s) as an excuse for acting out in ways that they would’ve done anyhow.

    All these factors together, imo, are what spark riots, with one final incident/event being the icing on the cake, so to speak, which set them off.

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