Thursday 15 September 2011

The Riots; The meeting

In Bethnal Green,just nearby the famous Brick Lane for a meeting of about 100 , called by NCVO, to discuss the riots.

Good on NCVO for bringing us all together. But this was not always the voluntary and community sector at its best. There was probably a fundamental fault in assuming that only local voluntary groups know about communities so whilst there was copious representation from cvs people ( as there should be ) there were few of the national charities who have huge understanding and knowledge of the causes and solutions on riots. The children's and youth charities for example, or the health , environmental and work charities and social enterprises. But of course always a problem in our diverse sector to be both focused at such meetings as well as representative!

This led at times to an unbalanced discussion. Indeed at times degenerated into a passing resemblance of a caricature assembly of the Guardian reading left. Perhaps there are issues about police aggression , racism and bias and cuts and I'm with those who hate the Daily Mail but that is an inadequate explanation of what went wrong. And criminal behaviour has to be punished, not excused, whilst also seeking for ways to prevent it.

But enough grump.

I liked much of what IDS was saying in today's Telegraph. Early intervention strategies, targeted work with gangs through third sector organisations and old fashioned one to one mentoring and support. As he rightly says you cannot arrest your way out of riots.

And let's be clear that whilst it would be asinine to suggest the cuts caused the riots , it is absolutely true that building social cohesion and community regeneration will not be done on the back of a cut and battered third sector. The cuts are not over. Worse is to come. My ACEVO members are telling me firmly that more cuts will not just damage them but seriously impact the work they do with vulnerable and marginalised citizens and communities.

There was much criticism of how many people were sent to jail. I'm afraid I diverged with the mass on this. It was entirely right for people who robbed and rioted to be punished and indeed jailed. Exemplary sentences were needed. Clearly some of this was over the top reaction but the issue is what then happens to those who are jailed. Our record on rehabilitation is lamentable. The real worry is that those who are jailed are set on a life of re offending.

The Government promised a rehabilitation revolution. We need to ensure that rhetoric is translated to reality – the brilliant Rob Owen of St Giles Trust is chairing an ACEVO taskforce on exactly this, and they are due to report soon.

The St Giles Trust and other programmes to meet prisoners at the gate and provide mentoring must be extended. One action that the Government should commit to is a promise that every person jailed for rioting will be guaranteed a place in one of those programmes. So Ken - announce that at your conference !

There is a strong and wrong tendency in some community groups to assume communities are homogeneous, are progressive and speak with one voice. They don't.

And a big mistake to assume that because you are a community organisation that means you always speak for all the community. So when opinion polls show people wanted rioters jailed it difficult to believe community leaders who say jail was wrong.

There is also a potentially damaging view that community is just about place. It is not. There are communities of interest and don't assume they are always welcome in communities of place. Scope has recently been campaigning about how people with learning disabilities are harassed and harmed in many communities. So the role of national charities in protecting and defending communities needs better recognition. This means we need the voice of local and community groups and we need the voice of national too.

And many of our national charities have huge experience of local community needs. BTCV in their sustainability volunteering work or Action for Children in their work running Sure Start have exactly the sort of experience of what is happening in marginalised communities that we may miss out on if we just assume only local organisations know what.

I live by Brixton Prison and the noise from there over the last month has been noticeable. Yesterday I saw Nick Hardwick confirming that there have been disturbances in Brixton and Feltham where many rioters were sent. There has been an increase in gang activity inside prisons with people being recruited. He says most of those sentenced are mainly sleeping in their cells. This is a disaster.

And the latest unemployment figures are a further disaster. The growing evidence of youth unemployment requires action. The first meeting of ACEVO's Commission on Youth Unemployment, chaired by David Miliband met yesterday. A great first meeting and the talent of the commissioners drawn together was evident. This will be an important report and a major contribution to a debate that is sorely needed.

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