Magazine article Public Finance

The Economics of Desperation

Magazine article Public Finance

The Economics of Desperation

Article excerpt

There is no one simple answer to resolving the horror of gun crime. That much is obvious from the reams written and the hours broadcast in the wake of the murder of Rhys Jones. Politicians have inevitably fired off a few ideas, ranging from Conservative leader David Cameron's demand that 'parents do their job' and there be more police on the streets, to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announcing that the law could be changed to compel witnesses to give evidence and that neutral dropoff zones could be created to hand in weapons.

All these ideas might help. There is, though, always the danger of a knee-jerk reaction that does little to address the core issues, instead acting as a temporary measure to allay the fears of the panicking public. It hardly compares, but the Dangerous Dogs Act springs to mind.

What is necessary, however, is a thoughtful, far-reaching response. One that considers the long-term consequences of allowing gun crime to spiral out of control, and that acknowledges the implications for the future of our society. Although it would be nice for parents to take more interest in what their children are doing on the streets, that is far too simplistic. Instead, it is now time for the government to go back to where it started in 1997 with its bold pledge to end child poverty by 2020, to tackle exclusion, to improve education, to give help to families who live in an endless cycle of deprivation and unemployment.

It should not merely be a Utopian ideal. It should be at the heart of what politicians do from here on in because one of the things that stands out is not just how disaffected so many of these young people with guns are, but also how isolated they are from mainstream society.

They live in a twilight world where their parents have no control, where schools do not seem to care that they are absent. They have to draw comfort and support from fellow gang members because there is no one else, making it all the harder for them to leave even if the violence is frightening them.

The founder of Kids Company, Camila Batmanghelidjh, once described some of the children she saw as having such broken lives that nothing shocked them; they had seen it all, which meant there was nothing the system could impose on them, not an antisocial behaviour order, not youth detention, not prison.

Labour did recognise this in 1997, but something happened between then and now. Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, describes the Babylonian excesses of the rich, which she accuses Gordon Brown of ignoring or even presiding over. The £10,000 for a handbag, highlighted by Harriet Harman during the deputy leadership campaign, the massive City bonuses and the increasing gap between rich and poor. …

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