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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots or peace and well-being?

For those of us in our fifties the rioting and looting in London and other places provides us a sense of deja vu.


Riots have featured in my working life, having been involved in Bradford in the Commission set up after the 1995 riot and involved in responses to the 2001 riot.


Out of interest I googled to see if riots have occurred in countries with high well-being scores. I found a fascinating article about the Geography of Peace. One relevant statement leapt out:


'Nations with less income inequality have higher levels of peace, while inequality is associated with peace's opposite http://bit.ly/qkWqAP.'  Britain has a substantial and widening inequality. People's experience of that inequality undermines their well-being.


In the mid-1990's the then Prime Minister, John Major said that he wanted to create a society that was 'at ease with itself.' Whatever it is that is happening in London, and now other cities in this country at the moment, it is certainly not a picture of a country at ease with itself.


The former Labour Government and the present Coalition have recognised the importance of paying attention to the quality of their citizens' lives. 


The Labour Government responded with substantial public investment in the most economically disadvantaged communities and the public services on which they depended during the 2000s. Local politicians were given the 'power and duty of well-being' i.e. the ability to act in any appropriate way to increase the well-being of their areas. This investment and focus did make a difference - but a fragile one.


The Coalition have so far held a survey about well-being. They have also felt obliged by economic circumstances to cut drastically public investment in their citizens and the services that support them.


Bad behaviour on this scale is not just about criminality and the ability to exploit social networks. Politicians would be unwise to write it off as just that.

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