Friday, 12 August 2011


Fortunately we have not seen lawlessness and looting in North East cities and towns this last few days. The TV pictures from London, Manchester and the West Midlands are appalling. Adults and children who commit crime should be brought to justice and held responsible for their actions.

There is a danger that seeking to understand why these events have happened can be misunderstood as condoning them. It may be too soon to clearly and calmly investigate the causes - a well conducted public enquiry is certainly called for.

David Cameron is suggesting that responsibility rests with the individuals involved and their parents. Personal responsibility is certainly crucial however the government cannot shirk its responsibility. Just as it is morally right for individuals to be responsible for their own behaviour there is also a moral responsibility for government to look after the interests of everyone in the country.

The previous government was concerned about a growing 'underclass' of individuals and families who had little stake in the norms held by the rest of society. They called it 'social exclusion' and introduced a raft of initiatives to try to address it. By contrast the Coalition Government has chosen to emphasise what is 'fair' for the majority, its policies seek to coerce the 'undeserving' into conformity.

Social exclusion and David Cameron's 'broken society' both point to the same phenomenon which is the huge and growing gap between the richest and the poorest people in the country. More equal western societies tend to be more at ease with themselves and to experience fewer social problems. The UK is far from at ease with itself. We value consumerism but the poorest people cannot afford to be part of that and the richest are rewarded far in excess of their actual needs.

Once again today the Chancellor Mr Osbourne has reiterated that the Coalition Government's plans to cut public expenditure are the correct course but I fear they will only increase the disconnection between worse and better off people. A recent blog by Will Straw on the ippr website shows that the UK government's plans for cuts are massively deeper and faster than anything that has been proposed in the US even by the Tea Party. Perhaps Mr Osbourne is right, maybe this is the only way to deal with the deficit but is the human price worth paying?

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