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London Riots Burn out a Space for Radical Innovation

Allison Ogden-NewtonChief executive of Social Enterprise London.

Where there is no hope of work there is no social contract. We can blame the recent riots on criminal gangs, social media, the media coverage or the police, but the timing is inescapable, without jobs or the prospect of work, young men take to the streets. Reversing the catastrophic effect to all in society of hopeless; careless youth is a job for social enterprise and one we simply cannot afford not to do.

On the BBC news this morning Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said, "cuts don't make criminals". Clearly outraged at the wilful destruction she was not making excuses for anyone, and neither am I. As the day has worn on Social Enterprise London members are reporting terrible losses, with charities such as CDG, the jobs and training specialists, losing their Brixton office when the shop below was set ablaze. As CDG's CEO Roy O'Shaughnessy said, "The disturbances we have seen over the last few days in London have affected many communities with high levels of unemployment, the very communities in which we work".

CDG is an organisation that works at community level, on the frontlines, doing the seemingly impossible every day – getting kids into work. So where is the sense in torching their premises? What is the point of burning and looting the offices of Centrepoint, another agency providing those with chemical dependency and criminal records routes to work, and Age UK in Croydon, or Oxfam in Ealing? I don't think anyone feels much like hugging a hoodie right now.

Maybe there is no sense, maybe all we need are tens of thousands of police on the street, CCTV cameras on every inner city street corner, or do we go a step further and create proper no-go ghettos like Harlem and the Bronx in New York, where access to the poorest black neighbourhoods are announced by burnt out blocks and gapping demolition sites that separate the taxpayers from the great unwashed. Or do we think again, and do whatever has to be done to get people into work.

Last week I used social media to tweet my wholehearted praise for Polly Toynbee's piece in the Guardian. It was a manifesto that called for any potential second round of quantitative easing to be tied to the development of regional industrial investment banks that supported the creation of jobs for the young. As Toynbee said, and I share her sense of urgency: "No one is counting the social deficit, the costly damage done to this generation of young people, though the evidence shows that a workless youth does life-long harm, some never finding their feet again, becoming the workless parents of the next generation."

If we don't act we will all be counting the social cost soon, a process begun by those who have recently lost their homes and their businesses, have been sent home or laid off and even those who have volunteered as one of the wonderful #riotwombles to clean up our streets after the chaos, not to mention the young men themselves, many of whom will have lost any chance of a real life once that knock on the door comes.

So as well as calling for more police on London's streets tonight I suggest that tomorrow we urgently look for and link organisations working with communities, particularly those engaged in helping people find work or promoting local enterprise that in turn create jobs, and as a society we invest heavily in the ones that work.

Social enterprises such as Livity in Brixton, which has worked with over 1,000 unemployed young people to access jobs in the media, or Catch 22 which turns around the prospects of no-hope kids in Haringey. Recently we have been told that we cannot afford such interventions, but after the last few days and perhaps with what is yet to come, can we afford not to?

Allison Ogden-Newton is chief executive of Social Enterprise London.