Riots response hitting women hard

Alongside almost all commentators I was shocked and surprised by the ferocity of the recent riots in London and elsewhere.

There’s been plenty written about the potential causes and context for such an event. I won’t rehash that here. We’re now in the aftermath with very severe punishments being meted out by the courts, alongside some tough words from politicians both local and national.

Three areas that concern me.

First the eviction of council or housing association tenants if they or their family were involved in the riots. I’m really uncomfortable with this. It only affects those in one particular tenure. There is no equivalent action for someone who rents privately or owns their home. Also no similar sanction to, say, remove someone’s student grant/loan, subsidised bus travel, access to the NHS etc. Why penalise one tenure and one form of public subsidy over another? Particularly one that has been shown to be so important to estabilishing and stabilising family life and life chances more generally. This is a disproportionate and counterproductive measure. It’ll also hit struggling families, mothers and children particularly, if they are the unfortunate and innocent casualties of a family member’s actions.

This doesn’t mean I don’t think people should go unpunished. This is why we have a judicial system. Anyone found guilty should face the appropriate punishment via the criminal justice system.

However this does bring me to the second area of concern to me. Politicians of all colours have been pushing the judiciary to come down hard, very hard, on those convicted. And, for those guilty of arson and murder, I have no issue with this. But there seem to be increasing numbers of stories that seem perversely harsh. Today the news reported on a mother of two who went nowhere near the riots. But her housemate gave her some looted shorts which she accepted. And now she’s been put away for five months. FIVE MONTHS! This seems draconian. What might this mean for her children? The repercussions on this family are likely go on far longer than the next few months.

Finally, there is much call on the blogosphere for benefits to be cut for those involved in the rioting. This is being actively considered by the Government. Another punishment only hitting some of those involved and spiralling out to hit their families very harshly.

Three examples of disproportionate and counter-productive punishment, in my opinion. All impacting most harshly on mothers and children who weren’t in any way implicated in the riots. All offering terrifying future implications for these families. Women who lose their home, their income, their liberty are unlikely to be able to make the positive changes their families need. For their communities the prospects for any real change gets bleaker too.

I don’t know what the answer is but surely these women, these mothers, must be a part of the solution and not merely treated as an extension of the problem.

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