The Neoliberal State and the 2011 English Riots: A Class Analysis

Part of the Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology book series (PSEPS)


On 11 August 2011 in Camberwell Green Magistrates Court, a 23-year-old student with no criminal record was sentenced to a prison term of six months for stealing a pack of bottled water worth £3.50. This extraordinarily harsh sentence would normally be cause for widespread denunciation of judicial abuse but, following five nights of fiery rioting across a dozen English cities from 6 to 10 August, the extraordinary turned ordinary for the courts. Whereas the rampant financial criminality at the top of the class structure leading to the near-collapse of the banking system in the autumn of 2008 saw no reactions from criminal justice, even as it sent the UK economy into a tailspin, overturning millions of lives and causing hundreds of billions of pounds in damage, a street fracas at the bottom, estimated to have cost around 300 million pounds, triggered a lightning-fast and brutal response from the penal wing of the state. Those convicted at the Crown Court of robbery (that is, looting, however minor) during these nocturnal disturbances were sentenced with stunning celerity to an average of 29.8 months in prison, nearly treble the usual rate of 10.8 months. Culprits of violent disorder reaped 30.6 months compared with the standard fare of 9.9 months, while those nabbed for theft received sentences nearly twice as long (10.1 months as against 6.6 months). After the riots stopped, the police deployed munificent resources and manifold schemes to track down and round up the looters, mining television footage and web postings, setting up phone lines for snitching, running “Shop A Moron” posters on buses, while politicians promised to cut welfare and housing benefits to the families of the culprits.


Social Housing Welfare Reform Structural Violence Street Crime Conservative Party 
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Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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