OPINION
01/05/2020 10:57 BST | Updated 01/05/2020 11:11 BST

We're Still In Danger Of Lockdown Riots Unless We Can Keep A Lid On The Tinder Box

Social isolation is being coupled with marginalisation through economic means. And what you’re left with is a coiled spring, criminology lecturer Jen Hough writes.

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Pedestrians walk across Hammersmith Bridge

Boredom, isolation, fake news and financial concerns – there’s a lot at play right now when it comes to the physical and mental wellbeing of the British public.

And we need a much more reasoned argument when it comes to the Coronavirus crisis if we’re to keep the potential for social unrest in check.

Increasingly in modern society we’re seeing the polarisation of opinion. And the current pandemic is no different.

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We’ve already seen mass protests in some American states, with people creating blockades with their vehicles to demonstrate their unhappiness with the current quarantine measures. 

In the UK, on the one hand we’ve got “stupid” people going out into the parks, seemingly against government advice. On the other hand, we’ve got people venturing out into the only green space near their homes because they don’t have a garden and simply have nowhere else to go.

Coronavirus is, however you look at it, a real class issue, where social isolation is being coupled with marginalisation through economic means.

Even if the ideologies and reasoning behind people’s ire are coming from a good place, there is still a danger of creating a form of mob mentality.

And that is potentially leading to a time of great unrest – where police and policymakers need to be extremely mindful that it doesn’t escalate into something more volatile, as we are now beginning to see in other countries.

Just look at the riots that spread across England in 2011.

They emerged, quite abruptly, due to questions about “justice” stemming from the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police.

That animosity filtered into communities who felt marginalised and unheard.

There were a lot of economic factors thrown in for good measure. David Cameron had scrapped the education maintenance allowance (EMA), a support system for young people staying in further education, and there was a general air of dissatisfaction.

While we are not necessarily on course for a repeat of 2011, and we’re probably past the peak of that being a likely occurrence, it is easy to recognise the parallels between then and now.

What we have here in 2020 are people who are genuinely concerned for the health of themselves and their families, worries compounded by economic factors.

Many are also finding it difficult just to walk into the supermarket to get everything they need right now.

Let’s not forget that we’re still in a period of austerity, we had the catastrophic roll-out of universal credit which has left a lot of people living under the breadline, you’ve got a benefits system which is struggling, to the point where people in work are still living in poverty, on top of a general anxiety around coronavirus.

Add to this access to 24-hour media while confined indoors, and a lack of access to social bonds and safe spaces.

Then factor in the poorest members of society being vilified for using green spaces where they have none at home. And what you’re left with is a coiled spring.

We need to be very careful about not letting that spring go off. So what can be done to help?

One key element for me is the continued good management of supermarkets.
We are, thankfully, seeing essential goods returning to shelves after a cessation of panic buying. We need to continue to make sure that the most vulnerable people in society have proper access to these basic necessities. Whether that involves more reliance on the Army or other measures, it’s absolutely crucial for the state of the nation.

There also needs to be clear – and honest – communication from the government. We need to avoid the social unrest which is currently escalating in some American states.

Let’s also aim to have a more open-minded debate about people’s behaviours and motivations – and that includes everyone from the keyboard warriors on Twitter to the authorities maintaining peace.

Put yourself in the shoes of others. Remember that those same outdoor spaces being fought over may be a refuge for people, not only in terms of mental health, but also because “home” may not be a safe place for many.

But by working together and remaining resilient, we can keep a lid on the tinderbox.

Jen Hough is lecturer in criminology and social policy at Liverpool Hope University.