What do you consider to be the main causes of social conflict in Britain’s cities in the last ten years? Stephenie Thourgood What do you consider to be the main causes of social conflict in Britain’s Cities in the last ten years? This essay aims to introduce types of social conflict that prevail in today’s society and identify possible causes to the social conflict that has occurred in British cities within the last decade. Social conflict is the struggle between individuals or groups of people within a society that have opposing beliefs/ interests to other groups.
From these struggles, tensions are produced and are expressed in a variety of ways often through anti-social behaviour such as theft, drugs, riots, attacks, demonstrations, strikes, hooliganism and vandalism. The main focus of this paper will be the causes behind the riots in British cities in the last ten years, as riots are a form of social conflict easier to measure than the other forms; Riots occur sporadically and last for a certain duration. Crime for example is an ongoing process in all areas of the country. The essay will conclude by suggesting changes to be made to reduce social conflict in Britain.
Britain has a history of city riots that were probably most prominent in the 1980’s in areas such as Brixton and Manchester. There have been thirteen recorded riots between 1991 and 1992 where the police temporarily lost control over the violence. All of the riots occurred in council estates on the periphery of London in low-income areas with long standing socio-economic problems. Unemployment levels were far above the national average. The participants were predominantly young white British males aged between 10 and 30 years old.
There tended to be a high concentration of young people, in some areas over half of the residents were under 24 years of age (Power, A 1997. ppix). Individuals in society have labelled this group of people the ‘underclass’. There are however different understandings of what is meant by the ‘underclass’. It would seem that in a time where the class system is supposedly dead, class differences still exist.
The ‘underclass’ in this paper will be considered as people with ” low educational attainment, a lack of adequate skills …. ,shared spatial location, dependency on welfare, unemployment and under-employment… pathological family structures and the inter-generational transmission of poverty; involvement in the unreported economy and a pre-disposition to criminal and disorderly behaviour”( Crowther, C, 1997 pp7). In the way that the working class had little power in the capitalist system until they formed a global alliance of all workers (proletariat), the underclass too struggle to make a difference until they unite and riot (Dicken, P 1990). There are many reasons behind social conflict and there are also catalysts that trigger the social disorder such as riots.
Community is often a group of people with shared interests, a neighbourhood where residents feel a sense of identification and belonging. Traditionally a sense of community was based around the neighbourhood you resided. This concept is fast deteriorating as new community identities within communities evolve e. g. the ‘gay community’ and ‘ethnic communities’. These divisions within the community produce conflict as the various groups have different interests and perceived priorities in the neighbourhood (Hogget, P, 1997). Social tensions also occur due to demographical factors surrounding the communities.
The housing estates that often witness violent outbreaks tend to have a population of predominantly young people, unemployed or on a low income, living in council housing. The estate is then branded an economically deprived area. If there were a mix in the wealth of the estate then role models for
Smaller groups of youngsters living on the estates would find it difficult to make an impression as numbers would be too small to cause the large scale of disorder evident in the riots of the last decade. “A mix of more mature households with younger families would provide stronger community constraints” (Power, A etal, 1997, ppxi). There was an increase in the amount of migrants living in Britain since the 1950’s, this is no longer encouraged and constraints have been placed upon the process. Newly arriving immigrants were housed in the poorer areas of Britain.
Obviously different ethnic groups have different cultures and interests. By housing them alongside the poorer British residents, very different groups were forced to live together in one community. As a result of this process there became a high concentration of poverty stricken ethnic minority groups living in densely overpopulated areas, which created tensions and pressure on local services. Equal opportunities policies sought to eliminate racial discrimination suffered by the ethnic minorities, by increasing the amount of minority employees.
White unemployed residents job-hunting would find themselves in direct competition with the minority groups and therefore feel bitter that the minority groups can obtain work in Britain where some of the British can not (Crowther, C 1997). “Although race was not a dominant issue in the riots, individual minority families became targets of hate” (Power, A etal. 1997 pp 20) The white residents of the estates wanted to blame someone for their undesirable situation and targeted ethnic minorities as scapegoats to take their anger out upon in some of the riots.
The economic disadvantage of the residents of these estates also contributed to the outbreaks. Education was often not reinforced by families on the estates, as they too had never had the importance of education demonstrated to them. Due to the lack of education, they knew of no alternative option to voice their opinions other than by violent methods such as rioting. Low educational attainment meant that children did not have the skills required of them to become a member of the labour force, and so often became dependent upon welfare (Crowther, C 1997).
The provision of welfare undermines individual responsibility by giving rational human agents the incentives to not work and provide for themselves, thereby creating welfare dependency” (Crowther, C 1997. pp9). Girls very rarely played any major part in the rioting. This can be explained by the fact that girls achieved higher in school. They were more successful than boys in gaining employment and so had a sense of self-fulfilment. As boys’ educational attainment levels were lower they were exposed to the feeling of failure, which carried on into their years of job seeking (Power, A etal, 1997).
Many of the girls may have been mothers and as mother women may have recognised their responsibilities socially and did not want to be associated with the violence. Males, however, did not maintain their social role as a father and readily participated in the riots (Ginsberg, N 1993). The recession contributed to rioting also as it caused changes in the labour market that when combined with racial competition led to ever increasing tensions: “Throughout the course of their struggle to improve their market situation the ‘white’ labour force often entered into antagonistic relations with ‘black labourers.
Thus the segregation of ‘white’ from ‘black’ workers is shaped by individual attitudes and actions” (Crowther, C 1997, pp 12) The young unemployed people become bored as they have much free time and limited finance to pursue on interesting activities/hobbies. As a result of this they often turn to crime for means of enjoyment, excitement and to increase their income. Unemployment can give people a feeling of low self worth and a lack of respect from their family. Various types of crime such as stealing a car may often earn them respect from their peers and families especially if there is financial gain.
This had a circular effect however as crime on the estate caused conflict between the victimised residents and the criminal population of the area (Altman, I 1975). Political factors can also help to explain the reasons behind social conflict. The areas that tend to be prone to disturbance tend to be areas that major government programmes are focussed upon. The Government created massive programmes that entailed investing money to improve housing, transport and urban renewal.
An estate based housing office, a tenants association, health projects, community development trusts, policing projects are examples of the types of programmes initiated. They aimed to improve the immediate vicinity of the poorer estates, but the programmes had a short-term impact. It is true that the projects improved the quality of life for the residents, but nothing was done to increase education or job prospects. The government provided the estates with no means to continually support themselves and sustain their improved lifestyle.
After time the services became run down again and the unemployed resident is still poor and frustrated. Government resources were scarce as they tried to divide the budget between all the different needs of the sub-communities within the community (Hogget, P 1997). “The cost of growing dependency by community organisations on such programmes in any areas became apparent…. community groups often found themselves in a struggle for scarce resources… which exacerbated existing lines of tension between communities of difference” ( Hoggett, P 1997 pp10).
Residents were previously not involved in the decision-making process on how funding was to be spent; they had no control over what was done in their community space. Had they been consulted they would probably have opted for a scheme that aimed to obtain businesses reinvestment in the area. “Most externally funded programmes were driven by outside constraints and did very little to change the prospects for young men or their stake in what happened” (Power, A etal 1997. ppx). Social aspects are considered to cause social conflict. All of the aforementioned reasons for social conflict lead to an accumulation of pressure upon a family.
Home is perceived as a haven where people can take shelter from society, if the home is of poor quality and overcrowded with family breakdown there is no escape for those residing there; they are constantly faced with their deprivation and problems (Dickens, P, 1990). An increase in single parent families means for many youngsters there is no role model to reinforce ideal behaviour. From a study on youth and crime undertaken by ‘The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’ it was discovered that damaged adults create damaged children (Power, A etal 1997).
Poor quality parenting, parental conflict, little enthusiasm for education, criminal behaviour and poverty set examples to children that they too would follow. Pressure on the head of the family to be the provider can lead to tensions particularly if the family is in poverty and the parents are unemployed and dependent on welfare. The rest of the family may lose respect for that person, as they cannot provide an affluent lifestyle for their children. The media contribute to social conflict, as they provided a method by which the residents could communicate to the wider society.
The media always reported on the riots and often exaggerated the situation. In some cases the media have been prosecuted for encouraging youths to riot so that the reporters could gain a good story for the sake of ratings. “the newspaper headlines provide a relentless reportage of the consequences of the collapse of excluded communities” (Hoggett, P 1997 pp13) Areas were often stereotyped as being ‘bad’ by the media. The estates then experienced difficulties in trying to escape this labelling especially when applying for jobs. Weak social control caused by weak links with the wider society also contributed to social conflict.
The youths were rarely punished for the riots and often gained support, attention and funding from the Government as a result. Due to lack of enforcement upon them they were constantly pushing the boundaries. They felt they had nothing to lose by rioting. Changes in society lead to increased tensions between marginalized groups and the police service. The police provided little protection to the community, they only responded to reported crimes. Due to the intimidation of the residents from the criminals on the estates, police struggled to find witnesses for the incidents.
The police were therefore limited. Tensions between the criminals and the police grew, as the youths antagonised the police knowing that the police were unable to arrest them (Crowther, C 1997). During the riots the battle between the police and the youths was therefore often personal (Power, A etal, 1997). A diagram to show how rioting may occur. Riot Denial of voice Alternative power Boys excluded from family, Control battle school, work, leisure facilities Violence in public areas Loss of control Alternative voice Control vacuum Gang Formation
Police challenge Hard tough style Rumbling disorder Intimidation, law-breaking Display of power Notoriety (Power A etal, 1997 pp53) Several case studies can be used to reinforce the reasons given. I have selected Blackbird Lees, and Bradford. Blackbird Lees is a housing estate located on the periphery of a large town in the Midlands in the 1950’s and 1960’s to house workers from the local industries. Only 8% of the houses were owner-occupied. The estate had few basic services such as shops, a medical centre, public houses and a bus route to the town centre.
The population was predominantly young with 56% being under the age of 25, and 94% of the estates population were white. Unemployment levels were high at 42% and 22% of households were single parented. By the mid 1980’s the estate was perceived as being one of the least desirable estates in the area. The area has a history of anti-social behaviour such as crime and harassment. The ethnic minorities were usually the first to be harassed. In 1992, the estate was awarded 15 million pounds to improve housing, services, diversify the tenure and increase resident involvement.
A particular activity of the youths was to steal and ride motorbikes over the large areas of open space near to the estate. Residents wanting to use the green for other purposes felt too intimidated to do so. Petitions were drawn up and handed to the police who found it hard to impose control. Bikes were difficult to chase and often the bikers outnumbered the police. The riot was triggered by the arrest of three youths for a motorbiking related offence. Later that day fifty youths congregated and caused damage to the surrounding area in protest. More youths were arrested and the disorder continued and escalated over the following nights.
On the fifth night 150 police with protective equipment took control of the situation and the disturbances ceased. Many residents, police and Councillors felt the disturbances were minor, and that the media exaggerated the events. There were conflicting perspectives of the role of the police; some believed they neglected the brewing problems for too long, whilst others believed they overreacted to the disturbance (Power, A etal 1997) Bradford is another area that suffered riots only this year. Bradford used to be dominated by the textile industry; due to the industry’s decline many people were made unemployed.
During the summer of 2001, riots broke out sparked by the general election. The area has a large ethnic minority population, high unemployment numbers and a substantial young population. A high percentage of voters supported the British Nationalist Party (BNP). The BNP gained much of their support by feeding from the tensions between the minorities and the ‘whites’. The BNP fuelled ideas that the ‘Asians’ were taking all the benefits and jobs from the ‘whites’, and that the ‘Asians’ were the reason the whites were deprived. Both gangs had been involved in attacks prior to these riots.
One night the ‘Asians’ congregated in the streets and caused a full scale violent riot where the local vicinity was attacked and vandalised. It is thought they did this due to the propaganda spread by the BNP, which made them feel alienated in their own neighbourhood. The riot was very territorial fighting for social space to exist freely within (www. bbc. co. uk. news 2001). In conclusion, social conflict is the result of a concoction of factors that when fused together result in an explosion of disorder. The factors are social, economical, racial, demographical, political and geographical (Benyon, J 1987).
When the status of these factors leads to a socially excluded deprived ‘class’ of people who feel discriminated against, rioting is often witnessed. There are however, some more deprived areas where rioting has never occurred. This may be because there is stronger police control, or the age of the population may be evenly dispersed. All the areas that witnessed riots had large groups of young unemployed males living in a similar deprived geographical location (Crowther, C 1997). These men are “more vulnerable to group solidarity with other, similarly excluded, vulnerable, disorientated and poorly prepared young men” (Power, A etal, 1997. p51)
These men were socially excluded and so rioted to release aggression, to be noticed, and to attempt to break the vicious circle they were born into. Riots are perceived by many as the ‘revenge of the socially excluded’ (Crowther, C. 1997). Riots can produce results. The people involved in the riots are very rarely reprimanded for their actions, instead more money and programmes are set up to improve the infrastructure, services and support. Positive action needs to be taken in order to prevent further outbreaks.
For a stable future young people should be taught that there are other non-violent ways to voice their opinions and recognise that an interest in their education can lead to better job prospects. A population mix should be generated in order to diversify the types of people living together. Activities within the community to relieve boredom and give people a shared interest should be initiated. Improved support should be given to parents and families and to community development groups. These ideas should be taken into account when planning future housing development and regeneration (Power, A etal, 1997).
It is also argued that planning decisions from the past have contributed to the racial tensions and exclusion of certain groups by creating ‘ghetto’ type areas through the housing policies (Solomos, J 1993). There are many aspects as discussed previously that when integrated lead to social conflict; the major cause being the long term exclusion and deprivation that the so-called ‘underclass’ are made to suffer. They endeavour to change their situation but with so many limitations upon them, they are rarely successful other than through rioting. Multiple deprivation has dangerous consequences.