THE GOVERNMENT last week announced a £40 million package “to tackle street crime” as the number of killings on the streets of London so far this year reached 50, taking violent crime statistics for the capital higher than those of New York. Meanwhile both Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd are trying to insist this has little or nothing to do with the drastic cuts that the Tory austerity policies have forced on police numbers.
And in a sense, they are right; the problem is much, much bigger than just police levels. It is about cuts to living standards from many different angles – decent jobs, wages and benefits going down whilst rents soar, travel, food and domestic heating costs continue to rise, and youth support services have been slashed.
Young teenagers see their parents struggling with debt, working zero hours contracts as security guards, shop workers, care attendants, in restaurants, hospital porters and so on (all jobs that require working ‘unsocial hours’). Even with two parents working full time, the costs of living are rising above the basic living costs. And many children have only one parent. And once the parents get into debt the spiral accelerates. They do not get to spend much time with their children.
Children must look after themselves after school and perhaps their younger siblings also. The after-school clubs, youth centres and so on have been devastated by the cuts, and are few and far between.
And these teenagers know their own life prospects are more of the same. More slavery in short-term insecure jobs for bosses who treat them as totally disposable – of less value than the computerised tills they operate.
Many people, especially Daily Mail readers, blame the parents for letting the children run wild. But imagine you are an overworked parent of one or two of these children, juggling rents arrears, unpaid bills, loans – and you know that financially you are slowly sinking towards disaster and homelessness. Then your older child comes home late one night and puts £1,000 on the table and says: “Don’t ask where this came from.” You don’t have to ask. Your feelings are in turmoil; the money is rescue from losing your home but your child is involved in a very dangerous game that could well cost their life.
A recent YouTube posting of an interview between a youth worker and a heavily muffled drug dealer, who recruits teenagers into the trade, revealed how easy it is. They observe the children and know which ones to pick. They don’t need to put pressure; the offer of £1,000 for one day’s work does it all. Escape from grinding poverty and the chance of a different future is the lure. And for some of them it is a stepping stone out of poverty – selling drugs to people who were going to buy them anyway from somewhere or other. But the job is also a trap, a trade you cannot easily leave and when your controller wants other favours from you, like seeing off rival sellers, you have no choice.
Police stand no chance of eliminating this when such numbers of ready recruits are just waiting for the man to come and ask them. What is needed is a whole new society where a worker can earn enough money to support themselves and their children in reasonable comfort and not get into debt, and still have time to be with the children in the evenings, at weekends and school holidays. And where there is out-of-school provision for teenagers to follow hobbies, sports, to become creative, be bold and follow their dreams.
The current condition is nothing to do with the ethnicity of the oppressed poor. London has seen it all before, many times over. In Victorian times it was the Irish refugees from the great famine, and the Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms. It is poverty that enforces the lifestyle. At the bottom of the abyss it is a fight for survival, and those who are totally law abiding did not prosper and their children did not survive. London was full of “stews” and “rookeries” where communities of thieves, footpads (muggers) and prostitutes huddled together to protect each other from the law. In rural areas it was smuggling and poaching that kept the babies of the poor alive.
These were and still are very dangerous pursuits, but if their lives were to be short anyway these people were ready to take risks.
This nightmare is the product of unrestrained capitalism and it must end.