I have never seen a burnt-out car before, in real life, in front of my eyes. I was walking through Tottenham on Monday morning surveying the area, when I turned the corner and saw the charred wreckage.
It was a shocking sight. Not again, I thought. We were just getting over Broadwater Farm, people were beginning to forget, move on. But now our reputation as the rioting centre of London has been secured.
I have lived in Tottenham since 1998 and have plenty of friends and business contacts in the neighbourhood. The saddest thing is that a lot of the services destroyed were provided by locals doing their bit for the people in the area. I felt ashamed and embarrassed – but not surprised.
The shooting of Mark Duggan was an excuse, an opportunity, the lighting of the match: the bonfire was ready and waiting. It was going to happen. I’ve been saying so since the new government announced the cuts and the job losses began to bite.
Our society is breeding a whole generation of young people who do not expect to achieve anything productive in their lives. Graduate students are applying for jobs that, previously, would have gone to somebody with A-levels. Those with A-levels are applying for the jobs for people with no qualifications. So jobseekers with no qualifications are stuck.
At the housing association I lead, we provided places for the Future Jobs Fund (FJF), a training scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions for young people between the ages of 18 and 24. Consequently, during the interview process, I spoke to a lot of young people from the community.
There’s a generation out there, hopeless, devoid of aspiration, unconvinced they will achieve anything. The 100 or so young people I have seen through the FJF are just the tip of the iceberg.
Graduates are wondering why they bothered with university; the ones about to finish school and are thinking of going – particularly those with parents who have been made redundant, themselves with degrees and professional training – can’t see the point of investing over £30k on further education.
The last vacancy we had paid £18k and we had nearly 200 applicants. Over two-thirds were people with first-class degrees. The shortlist was occupied by five very well-qualified, intelligent graduates. That job did not need a graduate. But I gave it to a graduate because, when faced with a choice between a graduate and non-graduate, I made a decision that is best for my organisation.
Friends of mine have children in their late teens, approaching early adulthood. All are educated and are still living at home with mum and dad. They don’t want to be living at home, but they can’t get a decent job earning a wage that would enable them to pay rent in London.
Even around them, there’s nothing to do. Haringey council, Tottenham’s local authority, is shutting down almost all of the area’s youth centres. I was driving through Wood Green last night and I saw about 20 young people, in hoods, dressed in black, sitting on a wall near a dental surgery, chilling and hanging out. That’s what kids do.
No parent wants a large group of teenagers in their living room and no kid wants to stay indoors with their parents. They want to be out, doing stuff. That’s what youth centres are for. But if the local authority is cutting provision, where are they going to go?
The looting doesn’t surprise me: it’s entertainment, something to keep young people busy. It’s not right, but those are the facts. Simply, if they had to go to work this morning they wouldn’t have been rioting last night. They’re disaffected, unhappy and upset, and they are looking at the likes of me, saying: you need to give me something, I need a job, I need you to help me.
Local communities can only do so much. We can’t solve this problem alone. But as long as the situation stays the same, we’re going to have more riots on the streets because there are too many angry young people thinking they have no future.
• Lara Oyedele chairs the BMENational group of chief executives and managing directors of black and minority ethnic housing associations and is chief executive of Odu-Dua housing association, north London
Article reproduced courtesy of the Guardian.