Comment by Ken Stewart 10/8/11

Social dislocation

If for a moment one sets aside the criminal opportunists who are taking advantage of the current UK rioting, what is happening in the UK is not dissimilar to what has already occurred during the Arabian Spring.

Civic society is increasingly polarised and social exclusion is being dangerously ignored.

Understanding what represents Poverty and Inequality has moved on from previously simplistic interpretations of low income and lack of employment. There is an emergent recognition that greater empowerment, active social participation and a listening Government are vital ingredients in representing a better understanding of what is required. Disempowered, voiceless and increasingly disenfranchised societies have two options to create better conditions. They can take the constructive political route of lobbying politicians, participating in civic organisations as advocates for improvement, staging peaceful protests and influencing power through elective platforms or they can resort to open confrontation and revolt. In recent times we have seen the latter manifest itself in the Middle East and now on the streets of Britain.

Newscasters constantly refer to the untold damage such rioting in the UK is doing to the impressions of our staging the 2012 Olympics. They seem to overlook the fact that the Olympics mean nothing to the protesters. There is absolutely no likelihood of them taking up £150 to £725 Olympic ticketing packages.  Many are unemployed. Many have no connection or interest in our mainstream political parties, hence such low polling turn outs. Consequently, they see themselves as without advocacy and feel disenfranchised. Recent coverage of intrusive hacking and Police corruption has also helped inflame their animosity and disrespect. It has also helped foster their confrontational attitude.  It is also perhaps unfortunate that the press have mischievously reported that the UK now has 23 millionaires in the current Cabinet. What we are undoubtedly seeing now is an increasingly widening disparity in our society.  The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. It does not help matters that the timing of our current recession is another challenging contributory factor in this atmosphere of growing dissent.  It is not only the destitute who are seriously shocked at the disgraceful actions of unelected avaricious Bankers which have seriously impacted upon our economic well-being and now threaten British livelihoods. It is infuriating and frustrating that their commercial behaviour still remains outside the control of the electorate, yet their actions affect family livelihoods and decades of their prudent financial planning.

Unless political parties and politicians show a more caring and understanding attitude and begin to recognise this current situation as a potential precursor to more inflammatory activism, then we risk sliding into a deepening crisis.

Fortunately, there is more enlightened contemporary recognition of what poverty and inequality entails. Gaining greater social empowerment is in itself insufficient on its own. It must be supported by the poor gaining better access to assets and resources. Governments must proactively reach and assist the disadvantaged, who are ever-increasingly excluded and marginalised.

Worsening vulnerability and the social exclusion of the poorest in society, poses a global challenge of frightening proportions. We have seen that man’s ingenuity and need has enabled many societies to find their own solutions, especially when government policies have failed; but a vast number of poor people remain without access or the required capabilities, social skills, resources and opportunities.

Poverty, inequality, social exclusion, hesitancy and ‘head in the sand’ obfuscation by Institutions and Governments in their failure to implement effective and demonstrable social empowerment, now presents contemporary society with a global time bomb. As is demonstrated in today’s news bulletins, impatient, excluded and impoverished people now increasingly recognise this and consequently see no alternative other than taking matters into their own hands.        Civic Society organisations should now offer advocacy and representation for many disillusioned and angry citizens and help present their concerns to our political representatives.

Ken Stewart, Convenor, International Development Working Group, UNA Edinburgh