On Tuesday 9th August 2011, following three days of public disorder across numerous London boroughs and then Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham and elsewhere, two large-scale riot events took place in Greater Manchester. In this article we focus on the events that took place at Salford Precinct, Pendleton, Salford; events quite distinct from the more widespread disorder that later took place in Manchester city-centre, some two miles to the east of the Precinct. This disorder was initiated in the late afternoon and occurred subsequent to the pursuit of individuals suspected of criminal damage on to a social housing estate neighbouring the Precinct by riot equipped officers of Greater Manchester Police. During the time in which the officers remained on the estate a large crowd gathered, elements of which then engaged the police in violent disorder. By mid-evening, riot police had been forced to withdraw and this was followed by extensive looting and criminal damage to commercial properties on the Precinct. The total cost of both the Manchester and Salford riots have been estimated by the police at around £9m and as of early 2012 around 350 arrests had been made (though it bears stating that, in contrast to Manchester, barely a handful of arrests were made in Salford on the 9th of August, and this relates to the intensity of the confrontations there, as we discuss below).
The incidents that took place in the vicinity of Salford Precinct on the 9th of August 2011 need to be understood in the specific geographic, social and economic context in which they took place. Understanding the dynamics of this event demands, in the first instance, a focus on issues of local context (as we would argue do all events categorized as riots that took place in August 2011).
This requires an understanding of the extreme deprivation of inner-city Salford; the impact of the recession and the austerity measures of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government (in terms of rising unemployment and cuts to key welfare services); the continued subsidization of private development; and finally issues of policing priorities and police-community relations.
Beginning with the general contextual features, the extent of deprivation across central Salford is pronounced, as is illustrated by life expectancies that are amongst the lowest in the country and economic inactivity rates well above the national average. The impacts of the current recession are concentrated in those neighbourhoods which were struggling even during the boom years. Langworthy, the ward in which the riot took place had amongst the highest proportion of Job Seekers Allowance claimants of any neighbourhood of the city (as of the time of the riot).
Focusing in on this neighbourhood specifically, an analysis of the administrative ward’s position on a number of key indicators illustrates that the people of this area fare considerably worse than the national average in terms of their health, caring responsibilities, educational attainment, employment histories and personal mobility.
We would also argue that the continuing deprivation faced by a marginalised working class in Salford is currently being compounded by national and local state welfare spending cuts, which on a local level have decimated vital local services such as youth clubs, homeless shelters, care of vulnerable and disabled adults and drugs and alcohol counseling services. We further argue that these cuts, taking place at the same time as the local authority continues to hand over subsidies to private developers in central Salford, is an antagonising factor that is generating cynicism, disaffection and anger on the part of local people.
However, within the concentrated deprivation of central Salford, we also find enclaves of wealth, the product of policies of state-sponsored gentrification, such as Salford Quays, and more recent predominantly ‘gated’ developments. It is both the extent of inequality and the close proximity of such disparities that is, we argue, crucial to understanding the dynamics of local community relations with the authorities (the most visible of which being the police).
Indeed, we argue that the riot that took place at Salford Precinct occurred largely because of a particular antagonism between the police and the people who live in social housing estates adjacent to the Precinct, not because of any intrinsic potential that place has as a profitable place for looting.
Nevertheless, we would not deny the consumption motivation on the part of those who were involved in the Salford riot. They are, to use social theorist Zygmunt Bauman’s phrase, ‘defective consumers’, whose inability to consume in the correct manner opens them up to the full force of social stigmatisation. In the context of the gentrification of inner-city Salford, the urban poor are disqualified consumers in a double sense, both in their inability to consume the commodities on offer in regenerated areas such as Manchester city-centre or Salford Quays, but also in their inability to consume property, which as sociologist Chris Allen has noted is part of the rationale for their clearance from desirable development sites.
However, while valuing Bauman’s critique of consumer culture and of the personal impacts of being excluded from it, we reject his assertion that ‘segregation and polarisation in cities is today the result of a free and politically uncontrolled play of market forces’. This is palpably not the case in Salford, where the gentrification of key sites in the inner-city has been directed by central government in partnership with private interests and that has been embraced by local elites.
What we see then in central Salford is the political management of class polarisation. We suggest that the close proximity of successful consumers of regeneration sites and the broadly disqualified necessitates an increased role for the police in what is in the broadest terms a project of policing the return of capital to the inner-city (evidenced in terms of dispersal orders enacted around regeneration sites, to give but one example).
*The ideas expressed in this column are solely the opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Dialogue Society