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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Welsh social problems and the riots

There is a serious and substantial analysis from Professor Dave Adamson in this morning's Western Mail of the problems facing many Welsh communities, which he says are as critcal as those in English cities, which suffered riots last week.

It is a marked contrast to the opportunistic and shallow warnings offered by the First Minister yesterday.

Professor Adamson says: “We have created a poorly educated, unemployable, disengaged and alienated youth who do not even understand the culture of wider society let alone share it.

“If Wales has escaped the scale of problems experienced in England it is only a temporary reprieve deriving more from the dispersed nature of the Welsh urban population than by any immunity to these anti-social behaviours.”

He continues: “We need a root-and-branch challenge to the culture of disengagement and disconnection which has settled over our poorest communities. This begins at the community level, involves our schools and youth services and requires a future of meaningful employment for young people.

“This requires major policy reforms, adequate funding and a long-term commitment politically and financially to social justice and the eradication of poverty. We have an opportunity in Wales to do something different before we are watching Welsh streets burning on our televisions.”

Mr Adamson warns that in “post-industrial communities” young people have been allowed to become cut off from wider society with violent results.

He writes: “Segregated in housing estates and inner city enclaves, cultures have emerged which deviate from the wider social norms and which grow increasingly violent and sociopathic. The rash of youth shootings and stabbings in London over the past five years were the warning signs of the distance sections of British youth had travelled from the mainstream values and behaviours of wider society.

“There should be no shock or surprise in recent events unless it is for how long it has taken for this to happen.”

Mr Adamson argues that the true threat to society is greater division between rich and poor.

He writes: “We have heard much in recent years about the ‘broken society’, of hoodies roaming estates submerged in a culture of drugs, gang violence and petty crime. However, the true breakage is one of polarised inequality in which the distance between rich and poor has grown exponentially in monetary terms but also more fundamentally in terms of the social experience of life in the UK.

“A society which permits the bonus culture of the banking industry at the same time as the growth of poverty from 7% of the population to over 30% in less than 20 years is one which has lost its moral direction and created the conditions in which the behaviour of the last few days can become normalised for those who have been marginalised in that process.”

These problems have not developed overnight of course. They are a mark of the failure of the Welsh Government to tackle the major problems of social exclusion, poor housing, poor transport links and poor opportunity. Equally, it is a damning indictment of their failing social policies, the lack of investment in education and training and of course the fact that under 13 years of Labour the gap between rich and poor actually increased.

But this should not be a blame game. We now need to urgently devise long term policies to deal with these problems. In particular we need to substantially reform flagship programmes such as Communities First where they are failing and invest money into improving opportunities for young people. We need to empower communities and service providers to make decisions, not seek to dictate to them from the centre, and we need to give local Councils and other agencies the tools they need to rejuvenate their economies.

Wales can benefit from greater powers, not least in the ability to reduce corporation tax, reform the Barnett formula and other fiscal aids. The Minister should be going to Westminster to make the case for that at every opportunity.

Above all though, we should not lose sight of the one factor that is missing in Professor Adamson's analysis, that is that respect and engagement goes both ways. Poor social factors are not an excuse for criminality. It is the job of government to constructively focus discontent, it is the role of each citizen to respect the laws of the society they live in and abide by them.
Professor Dave is wrong about these lads causing the riots, they would be perfectly employable to go down mines, quarrying, farm work of the old human muscle kind, factory and production work..any work which requires energy
They may not be so siutable for the sort of neurotic positon we have got ourselves into of calling work sitting down at a desk all day answering the phone or tapping the keyboard
It is the advancement (or retrogression) or western civilisation that is alienating these lads
I agree with rhetoric, Clare Short gave ample and numerous warnings on the disenfranchisement of a huge number of youths due to lack of jobs in factories etc. cw
"Wales can benefit from greater powers, not least in the ability to reduce corporation tax, reform the Barnett formula and other fiscal aids. The Minister should be going to Westminster to make the case for that at every opportunity."

I wonder if he is doing that, however, there is nothing stopping you Peter from doing this being as your party is in power there. Or don't they listen to you in London?
Don't worry I am making the case and it seems that the UK Government is more receptive now than it was under 13 years of Labour.
'...it seems that the UK Government is more receptive now than it was under 13 years of Labour.'

They might be hearing you Peter, but they haven't done anything, have they?

How about a commitment to electrify the main line all the way to Swansea at a cost of some £60-70m, so as to help reverse the economic decline of your home city and of west Wales?

The ConDem Coalition will have spent about £1 billion bombing Libya and arming the rebels by next month, from the UK's reserves, not to mention the £4bn a year on Afghanistan, yet will allow west Wales to stagnate. It's appalling.

The political sniping and blame game between parties has to end. They're all as bad and as self-serving, and the LibDems are no exception. Let's have some honesty.
Thank you for your platitudes. I reject the claim that I have been dishonest in anyway.

Actually, the coalition government have done a great deal more than Labour ever did, including electrifying the mainline to Cardiff, which Labour never did. I agree it has to go to Swansea as well and talks are ongoing regarding that. I am optimistic that they will succeed. It would have helped though if the Welsh Government had been more cooperative and forthcoming on this issue at the start.

I think that most of the responsibility for West Wales lies with the Welsh Government not the UK. And remember, this government inherited Afghanistan.
'Thank you for your platitudes.'

You're welcome.

I don't agree that most of the responsibility for the state of the economy lies with the Welsh Government. Most of Wales was in a pretty dire condition prior to 1997 and has qualified for EU funding as one of the continent's poorer regions down to the present.

The fiscal and monetary levers are still held at Westminster. The WG's economic powers are extremely limited. All it can do is spend from its fixed budget - totally controlled by Westminster, by a formula laid down in 1979 by which the relative amount Wales receives is being squeezed, whilst the needs of the country grow.

I wasn't suggesting, btw, that you (personally) were or are dishonest, but politicians (of all parties) are adept at blaming others whilst avoiding responsibility for their own shortcomings and those of the parties/governments/administrations they represent.

I don't understand how the WG could have been unco-operative etc regarding the electrification, when that isn't a devolved matter. Perhaps you might explain.

The mainline to London is reserved to the DfT. Most of the cost of electrifying to Cardiff is covered by the cost of doing so to Bristol, which would have happened anyway. I agree that Labour didn't do it either, and I'm no apologist for their failings.

As for inheriting Afghanistan, had the Tories been in power I'm quite sure that the UK would have been there with Bush too. Same goes for Iraq. Libya wasn't part of the ConDem coalition deal, so the LibDems could have blocked it, but didn't - £1 billion was easily found for that project.

As a simple person, I don't understand the warmongering mindset that exists in Westminster and Whitehall, when we are told that massive cuts have to take place because the country is deeply in debt.
Peter, I know you have always been in favour of the electric line to Swansea. Don't listen to maen_tramgwydd. But I can't agree with the professor that the urban population of South Wales is dispersed or doesn't live in housing estates. Look at the huge conurbations of our cities. I think we have always been pretty poor and stopped being tempted by goods a long time ago. Hence no looting "as of right" by our poor.
maen_tramgwydd, the point I was making is that when it comes to micro economic measures then West Wales is the responsibility of teh Welsh Government. Also that the billion pounds or so of european money that has come their way has made little difference because it has been largely wasted.

The Welsh Government can do slightly more than just spend a fixed budget but it is how that money is spent that matters. Business rates for example is one lever they have.

On electrification, I understand (and can be corrected if wrong) that Welsh Government officials were consulted on the business case that came to the conclusion that electrification past Cardiff was marginally uneconomic. Some of the information they gave to the UK Government has since been questioned.

I think that the view that the Liberal Democrats could have blocked intervention in Libya is very simplistic. I just cannot see how or why they would want to.
I wouldn't disagree on the wasteage of EU funding, not all of the responsibility for which can be laid on the WG/Assembly - it was wasted to some extent by the local authorities.

Micro-economics isn't going to solve Wales' problems. It can't reverse the decades of stagnation and decline. The Assembly needs futher powers in order to do that - even then success is not guaranteed.

It's the first I've heard of the WG's failure to put a persuasive business case for electrification as far as Swansea to the UK Government. Do you have any sources/evidence for that?

As for Libya.. it could surely have been opposed on the grounds of funding during an unprecedented economic crisis, if nothing else.
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