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Ten years on from the London riots – how have living standards changed?

Author: Rebecca Roberts, Grants Manager, Trust for London

As we reach the 10 year anniversary of the London riots, our Grants Manager Rebecca Roberts, who heads up our work on Decent Living Standards, reflects on what has changed in this time using London's Poverty Profile data.

Ten years ago, on 4 August 2011, Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in north London. His death was the touch paper that ignited a wave of violence and disorder across London which then spread to Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester and Salford.

The country was one year into the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and four years after the global financial crisis. This was a period of severe cuts in public spending and the scaling back and reform of the welfare and benefits system – a period that is now synonymous with the word ‘austerity’.

In the days that followed, we heard the usual calls for a clampdown, more police resources and ‘zero-tolerance’. Commentators, politicians, academics and community leaders scrambled to offer their perspective on what had caused the violence, who was responsible and what should be done. Some raised concerns about poverty and economic conditions whereas other looked to immorality and poor parenting.

In his statement to parliament on 11 August 2011 the PM, David Cameron, was clear that the causes of the riots were down to culture, disrespect and a lack of discipline:

This is not about poverty, it's about culture. A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities…. The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken.

A major investigation conducted by the London School of Economics and The Guardian, Reading the Riots sought to investigate the causes and consequences of the events of 2011.

The first phase included interviews of 270 people who had been directly involved. They revealed a range of motivations and concerns that were at odds with David Cameron’s analysis, including anger over the shooting of Mark Duggan, resentment at policing practices, tuition fees, the closure of youth services, the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance and other perceived social and economic injustices.

I think some people were there for justice for that boy who got killed. And the rest of them because of what’s happening. The cuts, the government not doing the right thing. No job, no money. And the young these days needs to be heard. It’s got to be justice for them.

30 year old woman who had been involved in disorder in north London [1]

Court records suggest that 59% of those convicted following the riots came from the most deprived 20% of areas in the UK. Other analysis carried out by the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice on young defendants found 64% came from the poorest fifth of areas – and only 3% came from the richest fifth.

Moments such as the 2011 riots invariably prompt nation-wide soul searching – an answer that goes beyond just law enforcement against rioters, to understanding the underlying social trends, economic and material conditions that are required to make our communities safer, healthier, more equal, fair and just.

And in these moments, a bit like we are now with the pandemic, there is a yearning by many to issue a societal course-correction, to ‘build back better’.

Did this happen after the riots of 2011? Trust for London’s Poverty Profile tracks poverty in London over time and, looking across the range of indicators, it does not seem like much has changed.

Here are ten statistics that tell the story of living standards over the past decade for the lowest earners:

1) In 2010/11, the poverty rate was 29%. This has remained fairly stable with 27% of people in London living now in poverty 2019/20.

Proportion of people in poverty over time after housing costs (1996/97 - 2019/20)

2) The numbers of Londoners in 'in-work poverty' has grown. 1 million adults in working families in London are in poverty, compared to 870,000 in 2009/10 – a 15% increase over the last decade.

3) There has been a 60% increase in the number of children in working families in poverty. 380,000 children were in this position in 2009/10, compared to 610,000 in 2019/20.

Number of children, adults, and pensioners in London in poverty by working status (2009/2010, 2014/2015 and 2019/2020)

4) The trend on housing poverty and tenure has remained the same. There has been a gradual trend for increasing numbers of people in poverty living in the Private Rented Sector, which might have fallen slightly in recent years.

Number of people in London in poverty by housing tenure (2004/05 - 2019/20)

5) Overcrowding across all tenures has been broadly consistent over this time. It was 8.4% in 2011/12 and 8.3% in 2018/19. There has been some variation with tenures during this time.

Proportion of households in London that are overcrowded by tenure (2007/08 - 2018/19)

6) There has been a fall in overall unemployment across London. Whilst there has been a fall in unemployment across London, the capital’s rate remained higher than for England.

Unemployment rate over time (2004/05 - 2019/20(Q4))

7) But the fall in unemployment has been accompanied by a fall in the number of hours worked by the lowest paid. The number of hours worked by the lowest earners fell, impacting on household incomes. Whilst this reduction was seen across the income spectrum, it was worse for those on the lowest income.

Actual weekly hours by gross weekly pay quintile across Q2 - Q3 in London and the rest of England (2010-2020 (Q2/Q3))

8) There were significant drops in weekly pay for the lowest earners in the years following 2011. Weekly pay fell significantly and has only recently recovered to the same level.

Indexed gross weekly pay in London and England (2002 - 2020)

9) Positively, wages for the bottom 50% overall have risen by more than the top 50% since 2010. And the wages for the bottom 10% have risen faster than the top 10%.

Change in real annual gross pay by job pay percentile in London (2020)

10) Income inequality – the gap in income between the bottom 10% and top 10% - is similar in 2020 to what it was in 2011. Whilst it has remained static, it is still much higher than it was 20 years ago.

Net income inequality before housing costs (1996/97 - 2019/20)

Whilst there have been fluctuations across the last ten years, and some more recent improvements, the data tells a story of frustratingly little change across a range of measures. Life in London for too many is still dominated by low pay, not enough work, and high housing costs – all of which contributes to London having the highest rate of poverty in the country.

The last decade should be sobering for anyone that thinks that, just because the injustices exposed by the pandemic are now more widely recognised, they will be any better in 2030. Inequality is the new buzz word, but for its trajectory to be reversed, things need to change fast.

6 August 2021

[1] http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/46297/1/Reading%20the%20riots(published).pdf