Matthew Taylor, Guardian (London), September 5, 2011
The riots and looting that began in London and spread to other cities in England in early August have left people feeling more fearful and more concerned that “British society” is under threat, according to an academic study.
The research, released on Monday, examined public attitudes before and immediately after the disturbances and found that the four nights of violence and looting had a marked impact on people across the UK and led to a rise in prejudice towards minority groups.
“Our findings clearly suggest that citizens feel more threatened, more fearful of increasing violence and vandalism in their neighbourhood after the disturbances than before,” said co-author Matthew Goodwin, from Nottingham University. “It also found that people were more likely to feel that British culture and society were under threat following the riots.”
The findings are based on polling carried out by YouGov at the beginning of July, when 1,000 people were sampled, and again the week after the riots, when 2,000 people were sampled. Researchers asked identical questions about a range of issues exploring respondents’ social and economic profile, their attitudes and voting intentions.
“By running the same set of questions the week after the riots we were able to see their impact quite clearly,” said Goodwin. “Feelings of a security threat increased by 10% and feelings of cultural threat increased by 5%. These are statistically significant effects. In short, citizens were more likely after the riots to feel that their security and wider society was under threat.”
The academics say the findings, which appear on the University of Nottingham Ballots and Bullets blog, also revealed a rise in levels of prejudice and intolerance towards minority groups.
“Although people did not associate the riots with specific minority groups, they were more prejudiced in their aftermath,” said Goodwin. “Those who felt afterwards that their security was under greater threat were more likely to express hostile attitudes toward Muslims. Meanwhile, those who felt afterwards that wider British society and culture were under greater threat were more likely to express hostility toward Muslims and also black and east European communities. So, whereas the riots were not associated in the public mindset with particular minority groups, our findings suggest they have nonetheless increased prejudice in British society.”
The riots started in the north London suburb of Tottenham, on 6 August, and spread to other parts of the capital and cities across England. Four consecutive nights of looting and arson left five people dead and resulted in widespread arson and theft, with more than 2,000 suspects arrested. Police expect the subsequent criminal investigations may last several years.
The study, one of the first into the impact of the riots, found that people’s attitudes appeared to have been changed whether or not they were directly caught up in the disturbances.
“Beyond their immediate impact on property and criminal convictions, the riots have had a broader impact by undermining social cohesion and entrenching negative attitudes toward minority groups (even though the public did not associate the riots directly with these groups).
“Seen from a broader perspective, regardless of individuals’ surrounding socioeconomic context (which we have controlled for), any similar event in the future that disrupts society and makes citizens feel more threatened is likely to have highly significant and negative effects on how they perceive minority groups.”