At a time when three men have been killed in terrible circumstances, while trying to help their community, and many others have lost their homes or livelihoods, or simply been terrified, it’s difficult to summon up much sympathy or understanding for those who are actually responsible for these horrific events. Yet it’s also worth pausing to consider the possible negative consequences of ‘tough’ measures, whether these are the use of plastic bullets or water canons or, as reported here, the possible eviction of tenants in social housing if they are convicted of rioting or looting. There has been much in the news about those in incongruously middle class jobs who have also joined in the looting. These riot tourists, and their families, aren’t going to be affected by such a clampdown as they won’t be dependent on social housing. In a comment to the piece I linked to above, a similar point is made:
It is absolutely appropriate for condemnation to be given against those who committed acts of criminality in the riots and for the criminal justice system to deal with them as appropriate. However, is it then right for local authorities and housing associations to further penalise tenants when their counterparts in the private sector will not have additional sanctions imposed? From much of the media coverage, it seems that a large number of those involved were youths, teenagers and young adults. Will their parents be liable for their criminal acts by having their tenancies rescinded?
This isn’t an easy issue. I’ve always been ambivalent towards those who complain about CCTV cameras and other security measures, as I suspect such people tend to live in areas unaffected by vandalism and violent crime. Tenants who make their neighbours’ lives a misery should be dealt with toughly. But to evict someone, who had perhaps been caught up in the events and never before in trouble, might do more harm than good, and of course be likely to affect a whole family rather than simply the perpetrator. Here one council leader is reported saying that a child’s actions might mean the family home was at risk.
Nottingham City Council leader Jon Collins said parents had a responsibility to control the young people living in their homes.
He said: “If you or your children are involved, you are putting your family home at risk – don’t let that happen.”
Clearly parents should try to control their children’s behaviour, and bring them up knowing the difference between right and wrong. But it is very difficult to control one’s teenage children every minute of the day, and even reasonably well behaved children are easily carried away, and are sometimes not good at thinking through the full consequences of their actions.
James Gregory of the Fabian Society points out another weakness.
But this brings us to the second problem. If we assume that rioters are indeed likely to have been anti-social neighbours (not an unreasonable assumption), we are simply transporting the problem elsewhere.
Indeed, it is likely that the problem will move to our nascent slum private rental sector, where irresponsible landlords will do nothing whatsoever about such behaviour.