Rebecca Joy Novell

The creation of a charity, from the very beginning.

How I’d really reconnect with the rioters…

I recently wrote a blog for the Guardian on reconnecting with the rioters. I thought some of you may be interested in seeing my first draft/rant which was deemed a little too harsh on the Government. However, I feel that this draft sums up the anger I am currently feeling about Social Work Resources, the Government, Society… everything.

‘It was a tense day in August when I and three other youth justice workers, took a group of ten high-end young offenders to the cinema as part of a summer programme. Whether it was through tiredness or sheer stupidity, the film we decided to take them to see was Planet of the Apes. So there we were, trying to distract ten young people from the riots by watching… hundreds of Apes rioting, in the most exciting way possible. Whilst watching large gangs of apes storm through a city, destroying everything in their path, it dawned on me, not only what a ridiculous mistake we workers had made, but also that this is how the majority of society view the rioters.

To this day, I cannot quite work out who the rioters are. Newspaper headlines seem to suggest that the vast majority of rioters were made up of Britain’s feral youth; a theory that the Coalition happily seems to have embraced. However, if we delve a little deeper than the front pages, the picture becomes more confusing. Ministry of Justice figures suggest that the majority were not young people, but rather a mixture of adults, professionals and students as well. Could it be that our media is continuing to stereotype young people in a negative way? ‘Never!’, I hear you cry. As a future children’s social worker, I wonder where we professionals, who are tasked with sorting this mess out, begin? In the Guardian’s work with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on ‘Reading the riots’, there is a necessary emphasis on the need to look at the evidence. Away from media speculation and Government condemnation, what we do know is that the ‘most damage was done in communities suffering from most poverty, disadvantage and a depressed environment’. A pattern begins to emerge amongst the rioters; one of powerlessness, voicelessness and under-representation.

The Coalition is expecting social workers, youth justice workers and community workers to fix their so-called ‘Broken Britain’ with plasters and stitches, when what we need is the money for complex surgery. Otherwise, Britain could remain permanently disfigured. There needs to be a collective realization that without a certain amount of resources, social work cannot be effective. The government would like social workers to engage with local groups at a community level, challenge destructive behaviour, promote preventative work, and empower people to change. With increased case loads, and continuing cuts, we may as well turn water in to wine whilst we’re at it. For a problem as large and deep-rooted as this, I do not feel that, at the moment, social workers can do any more than advocate for the rioters.

The most surprising thing about the riots was the fact that some people were surprised the riots happened. Peer-led research from a number of youth centres, warned of cuts to summer resources in the poorest areas, but no one listened. Social workers speak of empowerment and participation but the involvement of service user’s thoughts and opinions in practice and policy-making is often nothing more than tokenistic. Focussing on the young rioters who were involved, social workers need to help improve their image in the media and enable their voice to be heard from their perspective. The young rioters are the experts of their own experience and the only way we can begin to recover from the riots is by listening to the reality of the problem; enabling this to happen needs to be the first task for social workers.

[It may be worth adding that none of the ten young people involved in our summer programme took part in the riots.]’

Novs xx

p.s. my final year placement is in an Intensive Supervision Team within a Youth Offending Service. If anyone has any interesting books or research they can recommend, I would be very grateful. Reading keeps me happy!

One comment on “How I’d really reconnect with the rioters…

  1. Jim Greer

    David Greene’s Planet of the Apes an American Myth is an academic study which looks at the social backdrop to the original POTA films. The whole series of Apes films are a great tool for generating debate about social issues and the treatment of apes/people in them are a powerful parallel for things thst happen in our society. The new film is no exeption so I think it was a good choice for yaking young people
    to see.

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This entry was posted on 29/11/2011 by in The Beginning and tagged , , , , , , .

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