HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted on behalf of the Lozells, Handsworth and Birchfield Community (Perry Barr Constituency, Birmingham)

1. Purpose

This report is submitted on behalf of the Lozells, Handsworth and Birchfield community (Perry Barr Constituency, Birmingham) as evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Policing Large-scale Disorder.

2. Background

The riots in Birmingham occurred between 8–9 August. We witnessed looting in the city centre, disorder in suburbs, public transportation brought to a standstill, vehicles set on fire, businesses closing early and the tragic loss of life for three men defending their property. These events have stimulated as much speculation about their causes as they have caused anxiety for the city’s majority population of law abiding citizens. Government has blamed family breakdown and a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society. Media coverage gives the impression that the riots were fuelled by racial undertones. Young people have been branded as criminals and just about everyone has an opinion of how the police handled the riots.

The riots have been particularly painful to residents in North West Birmingham. Barely two months’ ago (9 July 2011) residents in Lozells, Handsworth and Birchfield came together in a People’s Conference themed “Citizens unite to make change”. The Conference considered how, with fewer resources, residents, third sector organisations and public sector organisations could work together to make the area a better place in which to live and work. Far from being an abdication of responsibility, the People’s Conference was a vivid testimony to Big Society principles. The same sense of responsibility was the impetus for convening an emergency People’s Conference for residents to voice their concerns about possible causes and consequences of the Birmingham riots.

The Conference was organised around four thematic workshops and a plenary panel discussion:

Young People.

Parents and Families.

Community Safety.

Community Cohesion.

This report summarises the key messages and recommendations flowing from workshop discussions and closes with a list of questions to which delegates are inviting responses.

3. Messages

Across the workshops it quickly became apparent that individual themes could not be considered in entire isolation from other themes. Furthermore, feedback reports highlighted the prevalence of cross-cutting issues—issues such as “sense of community” that have a bearing on all four themes under consideration. As a consequence, the messages are presented under a series of cross-cutting issues.

3.1 Race

(a) These disturbances should not be considered in the same way as the disturbances in 1985. People from all races were involved. It was not a race riot.

(b) What was not an issue of race is being whipped up as a racial issue and creating fear. Delegates were unanimous in their concerns racial stereotyping by the media and malicious individuals using race and racial tensions to feed their own interests.

3.2 Community cohesion

(a) The rioting was branded as criminality and not a breakdown in community cohesion. However community cohesion tensions arose out of the fear of attack—eg Sikhs protecting their property against attacks from other communities and the irresponsible portrayal of young African Caribbean males as the majority rioters. The popular perception was that 90% of media pictures showed young Black males, thereby creating negative views and fear about this specific cohort.

(b) A cohesive community mourns the untimely death of any of its residents. African Caribbean deaths within the locality have not stimulated the same intensity of response as afforded to the three Asian men so tragically killed. The perception of differential treatment breeds resentment and tension.

(c) In view of what has been happening and the associated horrors and traumas, there is a deep sense of fear in sections of the community. The African Caribbean community feels particularly demonised as perpetrators and the majority group in the riots.

(d) The government, media and the courts are creating a climate of racial tensions through demonising the African Caribbean community and disproportionate sentencing.

(e) The African Caribbean community is taking the brunt of the blame, fuelling tensions within the African Caribbean community and against it.

(f) Communities are not being brought together through natural or even contrived mechanisms. Nevertheless, some very good relationships do exist between Asians and African Caribbeans. These should be celebrated and shared—not flushed away.

(g) There is some fear (difficulty to quantify) of Muslim backlash after Ramadan.

3.3 Police and policing

(a) The riots caught police on the hop. There appeared to be either a lack of awareness or a lack of readiness—or even both. There was no presence of police in some areas despite warnings via social media and a general view of a slow response time. Communities felt that they had no option but to protect their properties, particularly those with homes above shops.

(b) The Police needed to act quickly in order to prevent crime and disorder and should have been present prior to the incident that resulted in three lives being lost. The Police failed to the job that they were paid to do.

(c) Baton rounds could have killed and or seriously injured people and possibly inflamed the situation.

(d) The Police Strategy failed to engage with local people leading the community to feel it was not protected. The Police need to seriously review how they responded to the difficulties.

(e) The Prime Minister’s use of inflammatory language when referring to an all-out war on gangs and gang culture was unhelpful and undermined some good work undertaken locally between Police, communities and gang members.

(f) There was a wide scale view including from former police officers, that policing in Handsworth and Lozells is conducted differently to other areas in the City. Illustrations cited included slow response times, non-attendance, people being targeted and abused by the Police, ignoring evidence and use of excessive force. The Police need to be called to account for the way they enforce the law.

(g) Cuts have affected front line policing and if there are more cuts what will happen in two years’ time if the police force is reduced?

(h) Community confidence in the Police is based on relationships that have developed over years. It is still high albeit tempered by concerns about their capacity to deliver an adequate service post-cuts. Delegates urged the Police to engage in more dialogue with grass roots communities and to share with them what impact Police cuts would have in terms of their ability to tackle crime and promote community safety.

3.4 Families

(a) There are many single parents doing a great job, often better than two parent families. Stereotyping single parent families is at best an over-generalisation and at worst insensitive and offensive.

(b) Parents love their children but are sometimes disempowered by the state. Parental rights to discipline their children and provide the right values have been eroded. Cuts and the loss of amenities, facilities and trained staff are making matters worse.

(c) Economic status impacts on parenting. In some families worklessness and outsider culture are inter-generational whilst in other cases unsociable working patterns make it difficult for people to be good parents.

(d) Current immigration controls are contributing to the absent fathers’ syndrome.

(e) It takes a whole village to raise a child. We need to recreate a “together identity” where local people feel empowered to “clip an ear” of wrong doers and take an interest in the wellbeing of their community.

3.5 Young people

(a) We must ensure that the actions of a few do not tarnish a whole generation of young people. In addition we must ensure that those young people who err on the side of antisocial behaviour and criminality are not seen as being “rewarded” through special programmes (eg outdoor activities and residentials) when these are denied to other young people.

(b) Young people know right from wrong but seem to have been tempted by the excitement of events and unable to tear themselves away from peers engaging in looting. The community and agencies need to focus on building young people’s resilience to deter them from such temptations.

(c) Who influences young people? The third sector was formerly the main means of engaging with young people but it is now in decline. We need to provide greater support and opportunity for all young people. There are insufficient activities available for young people during the long summer holidays and yet schools lie empty. Can they be put to more effective use by local communities?

3.6 Jobs

(a) Employment and jobs are key. Birmingham City Council’s Unemployment Briefing August 2011 confirms that at 12.3% unemployment rates in Birmingham are more than twice the national average of 5.5% and higher than any of the core cities against which it is compared. Drilling down to ward levels shows unemployment in Lozells & East Handsworth at 26.4%. Delegates estimated that for under 25’s in the area the unemployment rate is approximately 50%. Young people cannot get jobs. They have certificates but are not employable.

(b) Training for young people is not working because there is a lack of jobs for people to take up after the training is completed.

(c) Apprenticeships are not leading to jobs. The Work Programme is not comprehensive enough, is not offering enough choice and has such tight budgets that much valuable Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) work provided by third sector organisations has disappeared as they have been priced out of the programme. Pastoral care, mentoring and IAG are important in communities that do not have the in-built experiences and advantages of middle class communities. Our young people are becoming an alienated generation.

(d) Public agencies need to consider their roles as employers of young people. How can public sector procurement processes be designed to generate sustainable training opportunities and jobs for local young people?

3.7 Political leaders

(a) Our political leaders need to become upstanding moral citizens themselves and use sensible adult language choosing their words carefully to avoid demonising any particular section(s) of the community.

(b) There is resentment towards out of touch politicians cutting budgets leading to cuts in services.

(c) People were confused about who was supposedly speaking on their behalf—elected Councillors/Members of Parliament or “community leaders”? Local councillors were not very visible on the television, in the press or on the streets and some of the individuals who proclaimed they were speaking on behalf of the community were unknown to the community.

3.8 Ignoring experience

(a) Each bout of riots has been followed by government-sponsored inquiries as well as independent research. What does that research tell us about causes and consequences and what can we learn from the remedial strategies adopted? Is there any evidence that we are learning from this body of knowledge?

3.9 Funding cuts

(a) We know what works in supporting young people in coming to terms with a hard and complicated world. Mentoring programmes have been important as have parenting support initiatives and family intervention in general. Provision developed and provided by local communities and organisations is particularly valuable, yet this provision has been decimated in the expenditure cuts.

(b) The loss of services has had a disproportionate impact on the local community. Youth services are essential for both development and diversionary purposes. Youth Workers have played pivotal roles particularly as positive male role models and voices of authority. This work is expensive but does provide real results.

(c) When services are cut back it undermines trust and confidence—eg if the state can withdraw funding from vital public and voluntary sector services what does that say about its attitude to socially and economically deprived communities?

(d) Blanket cuts can result in “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. Many valuable services have been lost and communities left bereft of essential support. Government and local authorities should undertake a review of what was working and retain/reinstate programmes that make a real difference, eg Surestart.

3.10 Community/Communities

(a) Through the amplified voices and actions of a few, everyone is suffering.

(b) Society has become too complacent. The community has a collective responsibility for creating a safe environment. It is neither necessary nor desirable to leave it all to state. Communities need to have more ownership and control over decision-making processes. We need to build on solid foundations, whether faith-based or reflecting traditional community values. We have a range of community foundations on which we can build—neighbourhood forums and residents’ groups, third sector organisations, faith organisations and private sector networks. Some of this is becoming increasingly fragile as a consequence of funding cuts, a trend that needs to be reversed as a matter of urgency.

(c) We need to invest in our community infrastructure and in our people. A hypothesis was raised that 95% of all funding into the area is consumed within the system. This needs to be explored and more specifically, more funding needs to be getting through to local grassroots community organisations.

(d) Delegates acknowledged the swift action taken by Birmingham City Council to clear rubbish after the disturbances and compared it to everyday issues of rubbish clearance in local neighbourhoods. They expressed concern that the Council needs to improve on this over the long term in order to be trusted on larger more complex issues. They raised concerns about the loss of environmental wardens and depletion of services, concluding that communities are now getting “less” help.

4. Recommendations

This section lists the recommendations proposed by Conference delegates. The recommendations uphold the consensus view that this is a complex situation which will not be resolved by a single intervention or a single stakeholder group. Notwithstanding this, the government is perceived as the body that must take the lead and create the environment (policy and financial) where other stakeholders can play their part.

4.1 Policing

(a) More (not less) robust and responsive neighbourhood policing.

(b) The style of neighbourhood policing needs to be sensitive to issues such as Stop and Search as Stop and Search has the potential to damage police/community relations as well as community cohesion.

4.2 Funding

(a) No cuts in policing funding.

(b) Funding attracts organisations into an area but when the funding ends they go and there is no sustainability. Funding should be targeted at organisations already located within the area.

4.3 Youth provision

(a) Increase youth provision to counter the impact of loss of access to people to whom young people could relate and identify as (positive) role models.

4.4 Employment

(a) Increase ob creation through third sector organisations.

4.5 Strategic direction

(a) We need a well thought through economic strategy for our cities, through which young people can embark upon career paths with realistic expectations of fulfilling their ambitions.

(b) More work is required regarding what works rather than instituting a knee jerk response and pouring more money into an area that has not reviewed its needs and how it will address them.

4.6 Young people

(a) Compulsory six months community service (National Citizens’ Service?) for young people.

4.7 Strategic engagement of communities

(a) Public policy needs to not only empower people to take control but to give resources also.

(b) Give youth representative organisations more status so that those in power are obliged to listen to what young people have to say.

(c) Create a joined up ethos and shared values between the government, the local authority and communities as a basis for cross-sector collaborative working.

4.8 Third sector

(a) Conduct a review of third sector provision—availability, breadth, quality, gaps and impact as a forerunner for renewed investment in frontline third sector services.

(b) Support is provided to assist third sector organisations to overcome barriers to participation in public sector commissioning processes.

4.9 Community action

(a) Harass the local authority.

(b) Need to get people talking to one another.

(c) Positive use of social media and contacts to keep people informed.

5. Supplementary Questions to the Home Affairs Select Committee

This section lists questions that delegates are inviting the Select Committee to consider and address in its final report:

1.CCTV is now an everyday phenomenon with suggestions of further increases in its. There is talk of tackling the issue of social media. Where is the invasion into our privacy going to end?

2.Given recent experiences with MP’s expenses, impropriety by the press and possible police collusion, is the sentencing policy for those involved in the riots fair and consistent?

3.What do we learn from previous riots and responses? How will government capture good practice?

4.What will replace EMA, future jobs fund to help young people into employment?

5.What is government doing to support victims in the community and rehabilitation when convicted return to their communities?

6.Are young people being taught social responsibility and the consequences of their action?

7.Will the Labour party give a commitment to pursue the actions that we raise today and to feedback to us on its response?

6. Conference Delegates

To follow.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011