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Reading the riots: a NEET question comes home

6 December 2011

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in The Guardian  today:

The big question Reading the Riots leaves us with is whether, in our current fretful state, with unavoidable austerity ahead, we have the energy to invest what’s needed in family and neighbourhood and school to rescue those who think they have nothing to lose. We have to persuade them, simply, that we as government and civil society alike will put some intelligence and skill into giving them the stake they do not have. Without this, we shall face more outbreaks of futile anarchy, in which we shall all, young and old, be the losers. 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/05/riots-return-young-archbishop-canterbury

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/reading-riots-nothing-to-lose

We are also reminded that

In the aftermath of the August riots, the prime minister, David Cameron, was quick to dismiss the idea that poverty was a factor in the disorder. “These riots were not about poverty,” he said. “That insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.”

This is a mistaken interpretation.  It is true that many people who are poor did not riot; many of them would not riot and loot even if the opportunity came near to them.  But that does not mean that poverty did not have a major effect on some people, leading them to riot or steal, at least opportunistically.  

This is where we need more sensitive analyses and descriptions, such as those coming out of the Reading the Riots study (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/series/reading-the-riots) which the Archbishop comments on. 

Different people react to any particular situation in different ways.  

We need to understand why some people respond to difficult circumstances in unhelpful or bad ways, and then out of that understanding, we can see how to help them and how to change the circumstances for the future.  That is the argument and the spirit of the Archbishop’s article. 

The big question….for us, the church

‘The big question Reading the Riots leaves us with is whether, in our current fretful state, with unavoidable austerity ahead, we have the energy to invest what’s needed in family and neighbourhood and school to rescue those who think they have nothing to lose.’  

Church is not mentioned  by name, but it belongs here.   The church is a local centre of some visible social energy: people come together to make a sort of community.  And the church claims that the heart of its own heart is the energy of God in Christ by the Spirit.   

So the big question comes home to us, the church: have we ‘the energy to invest what’s needed…to rescue those who think they have nothing to lose’? 

Who have nothing to lose?

When we talk about ‘those who think they have nothing to lose’ we are talking about many more than those who rioted or might riot.  There are

‘people who have vague but strong longings for something like secure employment, and no idea where to look for it; who on the whole want to belong, and live in a climate where they are taken seriously as workers, as citizens – and as needy individuals; and who have got used to being pushed to the margins and told that they are dispensable’.

How many have ‘lives in which anger and depression are almost the default setting, thanks to a range of frustrations and humiliations’?  

There are many, ‘in our current fretful state, with unavoidable austerity ahead’.  

There are, for example,  a record number of NEETs –  16- to 24-year-olds not in education, work or training in England.    There are now  nearly 1.2 million, 15.6% of this age group.   http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/feb/24/neets-statistics#data

Do you know what it is like to be a NEET, not by choice, but out of disadvantage, finding no door to life open, applying for jobs and never getting one, having the dreams of childhood stripped of all chance of realisation?   Have you ever got close enough to a NEET to begin to see. 

What happens to a NEET who is older than 24?  They have got used to a life where they count for very little, and now they cease to be counted in this statistic.  They join many other young people, who may have a job of some sort, but see no chance of ever getting their own home, what with the shortage of housing and the cost of mortgages.   They are not all disadvantaged from early years – many have degrees – but,  in their early adulthood, they are together as those who look towards the future and see more than austerity ahead.  It is more like sterility, existing but not living.   

Here is a big question that comes home to us as church.   Do we hear it?   Do we have the love and respect to hear it?  Do we have the energy to invest?   It is a searching question which may find us out uncomfortably.

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