Friday, April 13, 2018

A solution to gang warfare: Green Wage Subsidy

Yesterday  I posted about the many contributing causes of the surge in knife crime in London and Manchester, highlighting ten causative factors, and another eight where ideological Conservative Party cuts have made the problem worse.

Today, let's look at gang culture, because 50-60% of homicides are associated with gangs.

Gangs are not a modern phenomenon. They existed in 17th century London, and 18th century India ("Thugees"). Modern weaponry such as guns and cars have made their impact more deadly.

Gangs can range from simple groups of young people in a neighbourhood, to a well organised group of violent criminals.

Why do young people join gangs? Essentially, to belong to a social group. If family ties are weak, and engagement or identification with society is weaker, gang membership is attractive. It offers fellowship, respect (importantly, of local girls), protection, and a sense of identity. It also offers big financial rewards. A 12 year old can earn £50 by running a package to a nearby address, a sum that may be more than his mother brings home in a day, and almost as much as the £60 that a teenager on benefits will receive in a week.

Gang identity in distinction from the gang from an adjoining postcode or neighbourhood  may look to be irrational, but it is perfectly matched by nationalism, which is nothing but gang identity writ large. Similarly, the "defence" rationale for knife carrying ("I carry knife 'cause he carries knife, 'cause I carry knife...") is analogous to the rationale for possession of nuclear weapons.
It is sobering to realise that both nuclear weaponry and gangs are a regression, a throwback, to the tribalism of early human development. Of the two, nuclear weaponry is clearly the more dangerous.

Speaking of tribes, it is interesting to note that in early adolescence, tribal children undergo an elaborate and often painful rite of passage that enables them to become an adult member of the tribe. It is interesting also that tribal teenagers are the main hunters and food producers of the group. Under instruction from older hunters they would be the ones to run down, kill, and bring home the bacon (or venison). Imagine the pride and self-esteem of a fifteen year old carrying the food into the village, and compare his situation of that of an unemployed fifteen year old in a run-down part of a modern inner city.

Youth unemployment in the UK runs at about 12%, maybe higher in some ethnic groups and localities. John Hagedorn in his book A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture  cites unemployment as a driver of gang membership, and the World Bank's World Development Report 2011 comes to the same conclusion. Interestingly, the World Bank also cites unemployment as a cause of joining a rebel movement (fig 2.2 in the link). This is borne out by Arab Spring, which happened in countries with very high levels of youth unemployment.

Evidence linking unemployment and gang membership is clear in studies of developing countries.
In 2017 an IMF study found that "Crime and violence are one of the key bottlenecks to growth in the Caribbean. Together with a labor market that does not adapt easily to changes, high crime rates have created a vicious cycle by which young people struggling with the lack of economic opportunities turn to illegal activities and crime, further depressing growth". (It should be noted here that other studies find little or no relationship between unemployment and violence per se.) People who had been victims of crime in the Caribbean were more likely to say that they wanted to emigrate. Again, the study points to the economic comeback from gang activity, which earns more than being unemployed.

The Asia Foundation released a report in 2012 based on interviews with gang members which identified unemployment levels of 24%+, along with "a need to belong, a search for brotherhood and identity, drugs, desire for an affluent lifestyle, and bullying at school" as drivers for gang membership.

On a positive note, gangs in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, have begun to try to make a transition to legitimacy by registering as youth groups and organising the collection of rubbish.

It is entirely reasonable to suppose therefore that if we provide good, secure legitimate work that pays a decent wage and benefits the community, gang activity will be modified and become less destructive.

How then can we do this?

The answer is by changing the benefit system for people in areas of high gang activity, or at risk of the same. At present, Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) is given grudgingly, on condition that claimants do not work, but instead spend their time in fruitlessly applying for jobs that do not exist.

Green Wage Subsidy transforms JSA into a meaningful support for the green sector of the economy, in other words, work that is of benefit to society and environment.

It would work like this:
  1. Any local group that is economically active - local authorities, NHS, voluntary organisations, and private companies, apply to a local tribunal for a certificate that their activity is of benefit to society or the environment. Examples might be companies that work in energy conservation, renewable energy, building, woodwork, community social work, caring, education, improving the visual environment, horticulture and any other beneficial activity.
  2. Approved groups can go to the Job Centre and take on new employees (aged 16-24 initially) if they have an address in targeted postcodes where young people are at risk of joining gangs.
  3. The new employee brings their JSA to work with them, and the employer brings their wage up to the going rate for the job.
  4. The employer is not allowed to displace existing workers with GWS workers.
  5. There is no time limit to the scheme. It aims to stimulate the green sector of the economy over the years, and will lead on gradually to a full Basic Income Scheme.
In summary, unemployment is a factor in gang formation, and it can be addressed by creating new jobs in the green sector of the economy. Young people will be able to find legitimate work that increases their income and improves their community and neighbourhood. At the same time, we build a sense of community, and lay the foundation for acceptance of a full Basic Income Scheme.


Further reading
A review of the sociological literature on gangs by the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Thursday, April 12, 2018

What is the cause of knife crime and other violence on out streets?

Image from

Knife crime is peaking at the moment, with 50 deaths from stabbing already this year - one every other day. Shootings and acid attacks are also in the news. It should be the major news item, but is overclouded by the possibility of the Tory Government taking us into the chaos that is Syria.

Commentators tend to have their own preferred cause of knife crime to point to. I have been debating with a Conservative on Twitter whose fervently held solution was to Blame the Parents. That was it. Don't even offer parenting classes. Just Point the Finger of Blame. My Conservative had selected the part of the system where politicians are least able to help. Sad.

On the other hand, there are many issues that can and must be addressed by Government:
  1. high levels of youth unemployment
  2. inadequate levels of unemployment benefits for young people (£60 pw)
  3. benefits given grudgingly, on condition that job-seekers do no work, just hunt for work that does not exist 
  4. ugly, depressing and run-down visual environment
  5. deficit of greenery in the environment
  6. the £11 billion cocaine and crack cocaine market that offers lucrative work for 12-year old children as drug mules (about 50% of homicides are associated with the drugs market)
  7. low paid jobs that cannot compete with rates available in the drugs market
  8. inequality throughout the national economy
  9. cultural cues such as Drill music that glorifies stabbing
  10. social media where online disputes lead to disrespectful comments that escalate to physical violence
  11. Conservative cuts to the following social services:
  • Sure Start that helped poor families with child care
  • Youth Clubs (the damage done here is long lasting, because it takes years to build up a respected youth club)
  • Educational Maintenance Allowance, that helped young people go to college
  • Apprenticeships 
  • Neglect of Vocational education
  • Police, especially Community Support Officers  and beat bobbies
  • Probation services
  • Legal Aid
So there we have it. 

Points where Government policy could have a bearing on the situation. In a nutshell, we need a transformation of policy to regenerate the reality of a community. It is a challenge, but one that can be done, given the political will.

The next post here will be about the contribution of unemployment and other socio-economic failures to the development of gangs, and what can be done about it.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Don't Even Think to Take my Power from Me

I carry knives cuz he carries knives cuz I carry knives cuz he.

We carry knives.

It's a necessity of life.

Don't even think to take my knife off me.

I carry guns cuz he carries guns cuz I carry guns cuz he.

We carry guns.

It's a necessity of life.

Don't even think to take my gun off me.

I pay for bombs cuz he pays for bombs cuz I pay for bombs.

We all must pay for bombs.

It's a necessity.

Don't even think to take my bomb off me.

I pay for spies cuz he pays for spies cuz I pay for spies cuz he.

We all must pay for spies.

It's a necessity of life.

Don't even think to take my spies away

We need our nukes cuz they have their nukes cuz we need our nukes cuz they.

We all must keep our nukes.

It's a necessity of death.

Don't even think to take my nukes away.

Don't even think

Don't think


(c) Richard Lawson


Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Poem: Passageway


Light filters through that old Victorian glass,
throwing colour on a worn brown rug. The hall
was always difficult to pass

cluttered with bikes, slippery with advertising mail,
unclaimed letters, and scattered boots.
Better to be out.

Boy back from school, quick hug for Mum
wrestle with the bike, then off out into the sun
to play with friends.

Past generations did the same, passed through
the old front door, with its chipped green paint, loose in the summer
sticking in the wet.

The hall contains it, all of it; anger and tears,
laughter and hate: the hesitation of one
that fears to go outside,

the slam of anger as a child is growing up
or as a marriage slowly falls apart;
has known it all,

the hall still stands, a hard shell for this tender, suffering folk
to live in all their lives. Live out their lives.
Way back, on the bed upstairs
a child was born,
through the soft red painful passageway, insistent pressure
squeezing him, yelling, into bright light from the window
slippery and wet

to grow, and learn, and live his work
come back fatigued, or grim, or satisfied
by turns

back to his own front door, unlock, step into the dark
warm passageway, park his bike
and call out, echoed by his wife.

He learned, in long slow ways, how to love life
and those he met, and shared his life
learned to be happy and be old

until at last, feet first, brittle, dry and stiff
his long, light box was shuffled down the hall
While he went, soaring, out into the Light.

(c) Richard Lawson