As anybody who has seen the news will be aware, there have been a series of public disorder events in the UK this week. Some of these could be called riots, one of them seemed to be a protest, but most were about looting.
As is always the case, the media and politicians are looking for easy answers and remedies and one of the themes that seems to be emerging is to either a) blame young people or b) blame the alienation of young people. Both of these may have some truth, but the quant researcher in me was also drawn to the question of how many young people were involved in the disorder, as a proportion of young people – or to put it the other way round, how many young people were not involved in the problems?
From the news it was easy to see that a large part of the rioters (to use a simple term) were young, let’s say aged 14 to 21. But pulling all the news together, I would suspect that about 2000 young people were involved, perhaps more, so let’s consider the chance that maybe, across the whole country, across several nights the number was 10,000.
According to the Office of National Statistics there are about 6.25 million young people in the UK, i.e. aged 14 to 21. These numbers suggest that either 99.97% of young people were not involved in the disorders or 99.84% of young people were not involved. So, it would be a bit unfair to describe the problem as about ‘young people’.
What the riots in the UK do show is that a country that polices by consent (e.g. employing a small number of police force and where almost all police are unarmed) can be thrown off course by a very small number of people who choose to challenge the consensus.