This year for RJ week we are shining the spotlight on our members and the valuable work that many of them do in the field of Restorative Justice. Our fifth blog comes from Dr Daniel Briggs, member of the IARS Independent Academic Board. Dr Briggs is a researcher, writer and inter-disciplinary academic who uses ethnography to study social problems.

Dr Daniel Briggs

Restoring Justice to society by restoring justice to the House of Parliament

Have you listened to Prime Ministers questions recently? Well for those who don’t know how it works, its normally when the opposition party make pressing questions about declining welfare, increasing inequality, unemployment and debt, problems of homelessness and the reforms of the social care and education systems to the Prime Minister and her sidekicks only for those questions to go unanswered in a political rabble about how the economy is more important: they even go on TV interviews, like Phillip Hammond the Chancellor, denying that there are ‘unemployed people’ (Baynes, 2017). Quite normal I suppose since the Tories are all for a market society which emphasises growth, profit and a general sense that policies endorsing liberal ideologies can solves social problems; the latter, of course, endorse notions that people are responsible for themselves and the State should play a minimal role in the pursuit of life decisions.

Nevertheless, such ideologies are dangerous because they imply that with generic attributes such as personal resistance, hard work and dedication, everyone’s individual dream can be realised and that socio-economic circumstance is no potential barrier in the trajectory to success. If only this were the case because such political ideologies seem to have only perpetuated social woe. The most vulnerable and poor in society simply don’t have the resources in such a harsh socio-economic climate, much less so as the State support networks around them rapidly start to disappear. This explains why inequality is rampantly out of control in the UK. People are earning less, becoming poorer, and social welfare is increasingly cut. In fact, it is projected that inequality will rise between 2015-16 and 2021-22, as working age benefits are cut and real earnings growth boosts the income of higher income households (IFS, 2017). And it’s not just at home that things are in freefall. Inequality, social exclusion and poverty are fast growing around the world and year on year, eclipse previous levels. In one recent Oxfam report, it was estimated that Since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet and only how eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world (Oxfam, 2017).

So much for the economy saving the day for free market ideologies are simply making it easier for the already rich and wealthy to stow away billions and influence politicians in power to continue to break down the obstacles to cultivate profit while, at the same time, thrusting more and more people into precarious living circumstances. At the moment, it is difficult to see beyond any potential reversal to this as a combination of political disillusionment combines with the increased favorability of far-right parties and seems to be producing only the very fuel to power on the market and tighten its grip on political economies across the world.

Certainly, this seems evident in the UK. However, enter Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader, on an unprecedented mandate by members of the Labour Party to try to realign the party’s philosophy around its socialist roots and rekindle the fragile trust from working class voters who had lost faith in Labour. Not only has he found resistance among Labour party members – mainly because they too were instigators of free market policies under Tony Blair – but also struggled to wrestle back interest in Labour from a battered electorate. However, he has persisted and gone from strength to strength, mainly because his rhetoric is around social justice and equality, and he has engaged in openly talking about the devastating impact free market policies have had on the social landscape of Britain. Moreover, instead of getting involved in verbal slagging-off matches, he has answered questions openly and honestly.

How has he done this? One way has been to relay real-life stories of people in real poverty and suffering to the Tory party in an attempt to draw attention to the above issues at Prime Ministers questions in the Houses of Parliament. Since many of his constituents write to him, he simply reads out the letters or presents the cases directly to the Prime Minister and this is normally met with jeers and boos from the Tory backbenchers. Tales of dying cancer patients needing more care and better medication, unemployed fathers who have families having their benefits cut and the like have featured.

However, like a more recent attempt (which forms the main motivation for me writing this invited blog entry), these human and factual situations are simply met with jeers and boos from the Tory audience who make faces in the process of trying to ‘noise over’ their realities. In a more recent example, after Philip Hammond denying the need to make increased spending on social care available in the forthcoming budget, Corbyn made a second plea during Prime Ministers questions which was met with fierce taunting and loud jeers from the Tories (Bullman, 2017).

Having done significant studies on social groups such as dying patients, drug addicts, young gangs, the mentally ill to name a few for a number of years in the UK, it breaks me to see these kinds of responses from people who are supposedly representing us which are a total negation of the reality of every day peoples’ lives. I have been right to the bottom of society and can vouch that Corbyn is not making up these stories nor are they isolated cases. What I am saying then is that this kind of collective denial on behalf of the Tories is a form of injustice in itself: it is a brazen nullification of the true experience of people who are dying as a consequence of these kind of social welfare and social care withdrawals; people who are unable to ‘rise up against all odds’ to better their life chances. These people are the ones who have been exposed to the unforgiving market economy which has only been given increasing reign over the last few years.

Restoring justice in society by tackling things like inequality, unemployment and poverty is not only about asking everyone to be more socially conscious or ethical about doing things like donating money or even about relying on third sector and charitable organisations such as IARS and numerous others to pick up the pieces in the wake of the reforms of social welfare networks or even lobbying governments for change (though they all important). It also counts on permitting there to be open forums like the Houses of Parliament where the government can be presented with the facts and, perhaps more poignantly, the real-life situations of real people. To me, to deny this is unjust which is why restoring justice to society is about restoring justice to Parliament; it is about curbing the “uncaring” and “uncouth” comments as Corbyn described (Bullman, 2017), and is about giving voice to vulnerable people whose life chances are directly affected by government policy and about working collaboratively to find synergies in politics to make proper inroads into remedying social problems.

 

References

Baynes, C. (2017) ‘Philip Hammond claims “there are no unemployed people’ ahead of budget’ in The Independent, 19th November 2017 cited online at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/philip-hammond-latest-chancellor-no-unemployed-people-annual-budget-jobless-a8063416.html

Bullman, M. (2017) ‘Furious Jeremy Corbyn lashes out at Tories jeering him as he calls for urgent social care funds’ in The Independent, 22nd November 2017 cited online at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/budget-2017-jeremy-corbyn-tory-jeering-social-care-funding-angry-response-statement-philip-hammond-a8069656.html

IFS (2017) Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK in 2017, London: IFS.

Oxfam (2017) An economy for the 99%, Oxfam Briefing Paper January 2017, Oxford: Oxfam.

 

About the author

Dr Daniel Briggs is a researcher, writer and inter-disciplinary academic who uses ethnography to study social problems. He has authored over 100 books, chapters and articles and presented at more than 50 international conferences. He has written Deviance and Risk on holiday: An ethnography of British tourists in Ibiza (2013 Palgrave MacMillan) and Crack Cocaine Users: High Society and Low Life in South London (2012 Routledge). The editor of The English Riots of 2011: A Summer of Discontent (2012 Waterside Press) and La Criminología Del Hoy y Mañana (2016, Dykinson). In addition, Daniel has also co-authored The Consequences of Mobility (2016, Palgrave MacMillan), Riots and Political Protest (2015 Palgrave MacMillan), Culture and Immigration in Context (2014 Palgrave MacMillan) and Assessing the Use and Impact of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (2007 Policy Press). He has just completed a book on Spain’s most notorious drug market which is title Dead End Lives (2017, Policy Press) and undertaking ongoing research across Europe on the refugee crisis, luxury brothels and problematic tourist areas across Spain. Daniel lives and works in Madrid, Spain.

 

Disclaimer: This is a guest blog and the views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the Institute’s views.