HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Derby West Indian Community Association

The initial reaction to the disturbances in the inner cities across England, triggered by the killing of Mark Duggan has been dominated by commentators and politicians espousing the predictable views linking the disturbances to wanton criminality on the one hand or the disturbances being seen as a reasoned response to the coalition government’s “scorched earth for the poor” policies on the other. Also, there has been an evocation of a “moral panic” through the framing of young people as socially problematic.

Of significance, is also the lack of attention to voices of young people and their relationship with the wider society in which they belong.

We write as a coalition of Black organisations within the city of Derby, which exemplify the historical local Black community’s concern with the welfare of young black people. This engagement involves building social and emotional support, resilience and access to a wider source of help, with the central purpose of reducing the risks of social exclusion amongst young black people.

Derby experienced few, if any, disturbances during the period of social unrest across England. Within this there is a need to acknowledge that this situation may have been partly linked to the important role played by organisations such as ours in tackling some of the deep seated problems in communities that the riots/social unrests have highlighted. Integral to our work, is to give a voice and a sense of purpose for young people/young adults in our community.

In our submission we wish to draw attention to the plight of young black people in England today and the need for their situation to be considered in attempts to identify measures to address recent events and associated policy-making and service delivery.

Ultimately, our purpose is to ensure that central government, local government and the third sector (ie community/voluntary organisations) work in partnership to align activity to maximise the advantage of local communities to deliver on their missions to create public good via their work with young people, much more fully and lastingly.

Contextualising Inequality and Social Exclusion in the Lives of Young Black People

The social unrest has focused attention on social mobility and inequality. Social mobility strategy is a central plank of the coalition government’s policy.

One of the many postings on the Social Media concerning the reasons for the social unrests, referred to the African proverb:

“If the young are not initiated into the village they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.”

In contextualising the lives of young black people in England the statistics suggests that there is a distinctive lack of “warmth” from the wider society if you are young and black. Indeed, a recent study conducted by the Public Policy Research (IPPR, 2009) stated that 48% of black people aged 16 to 24 reported that they were out of work, compared with 20% of white people of the same age. Further, the study revealed that not only had the absolute level of unemployment risen for young people, as a group, but as a group they suffered the sharpest level of joblessness: black unemployment has jumped 13% since 2008, compared with 8% among white people and 6% among Asians.

Research evidence suggests that despite underperformance in education among young black people, they are more likely to stay in full-time education beyond the age 16 compared to white young people. Indeed, Wright et al (2010) in “Black Youth Matters: Transitions from School to Success” (2010), raises the issue of how some individuals overcome their negative school experiences and “succeed” (regarding educational success and/or success in the labour market).

However, against a background of the withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance for participating in full-time education beyond 16, and the possible barrier of the increased university tuition fees, there is the potential of further reducing young black people’s opportunities and adding to a sense of marginalisation and not having a stake in society.

Further, Wright et al (2005) in a study funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that localised community programmes such as ours ie those offered by black community organisations, the churches etc play a pivotal role in ameliorating the effects of social exclusion of young black people. Paradoxically, the sustainability of many of these organisations is threatened by the reining in of public spending.

We beg the question—are the 48% of unemployed young black people to be regarded as surplus to requirement?

More generally, as Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) point out in the “Spirit Level”, phenomena usually described as “social problems” (crime, social unrest, ill-health, etc) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution. Within the UK, it would appear that young black people are destined to be at the sharper end of the growing inequality that affects the country.


We are aware of the prominence that education is frequently given as being the major route for social mobility/social/economic advancement. As noted above, although the experience of black children of the education system remains precarious, it is a recognition that education plays a pivotal role in the lives of black communities—in its essential aspect in fighting discrimination and establishing the Black communities in long term employment and enabling them to contribute to society.

It is a recognised statistic that a number of black children, especially boys, underperform disproportionately at GCSE level even though they excel at the age of five. This situation is compounded by the high level of black pupils excluded from school. For instance, the evidence suggests that they are ten times more likely to be excluded than their white peers. The fact that there are more black males in prison than at university in England should be a cause for concern and action. Also, the disproportionate number of black students at new universities compared to the elite Russell group universities should be of concern for action.

What is it that causes this decline in performance and what policy changes would ameliorate this disturbing trend? It is such questions (and others) that policy makers need to address if we are to dismantle the barriers which blight the lives of young black people.

Way Forward

There are no easy solutions to tackling the embedded structural inequality which engulf the lives of young black people. Possible areas of focus could include:

Establishing a Young People Commission

We propose the establishment of a Commission or an equivalent body to oversee the affairs of young people (16–25). The Commission would attend to all aspects of young people’s lives, including areas of structural, social, ethnic barriers, intergenerational conflict and leisure opportunities.

Partnership Working with Community Organisations

Regional/local priorities should include working with community based organisations in tackling marginalisation and accompanying alienation amongst young people. This should include resourcing “successful” organisations in order to assure the sustainability to deliver on their missions to create public good, as part of providing the “big society plan”.

Giving Young People a Voice

The need for a concerted attempt to ensure that the “voice” of young people informs aspects of policy making and practice relating to young people’s affairs eg in advancing policy and practice through establishing dialogues between young people, policy makers and practitioners via discussion forums, policy briefing, the proposed “Young people Commission” etc.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011