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02/25/2013

Q&A: Tanya Talaga on can Britain be saved?

Julian Herbert
A man photographs a burnt out police car after riots on Tottenham High Road on Aug. 7, 2011 in London. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“People are happy when there are riots because at the time, at that exact point, they are having their own way. They are voicing their feelings to the establishment. They are taking it to the streets,” Clasford Stirling.
Britain is poorer now than it was five years ago, as measured by gross domestic product, the total amount of goods and services a country produces each year. The Star's Tanya Talaga recently went to Britain to survey the impact the austerity cuts are having on its people.


Q:  You visited Broadwater Farm Estate, a social housing project in Tottenham, north London. What was it like being in Broadwater?

A: I took the Underground to Broadwater Farm one evening after interviewing British Labour MP David Lammy at Westminster. I had tried to head up to Tottenham earlier that day, but my cab driver took me in the wrong direction and I missed my set-up interviews, so I had to try again at night.

The Farm is a massive, social housing project, home to 4,000 people living in low-rise and tower apartments built nearly 45 years ago. The place is like a labrynith, built on a maze of streets and it is confusing to outsiders.

Lammy gave me a specific set of instructions on how to get to Broadwater once in Tottenham – which subway exits to take and what mini-cab stand to use as some cabbies don’t know their way around the Farm, or, refused to go after dark. The cab driver who picked me up told me that in his last four years of driving, I was the first “white” woman he had taken to the Farm in the evening.

I was struck by that comment and found it hard to believe. This is inner-city London. Could the divide between the haves and the have-nots be that bad?

The Farm was the flashpoint of two of the worst riots in London’s recent history. Perhaps that is why there is a perception that this isn’t a safe place to be. But the community has worked hard to turn around the Farm’s reputation and reduce crime in wake of the 2011 riots, triggered after the shooting death of Mark Duggan.

Q: How would you describe the residents of Broadwater?

A: Inside the Farm’s community centre, I was welcomed with open arms by soccer coach Clasford Stirling, who appreciated I took the time to visit and check the place out rather than doing a phone interview.

Inside the gym, groups of 9 and 10-year-olds were busy running drills. Families waited on the sidelines and it felt like I was back in Toronto, watching my own kids at soccer practice. The place was packed with parents sitting on the sidelines.

It struck me as a community like any other, full of parents struggling to meet demands of the day, juggling kids, homework and everything else. The Farm reminded me of social housing projects here in Toronto, just on a far larger scale.

 

Q: Can Britain be saved? How?

 A: Britain is trying to manoeuvre itself out of nearly three straight recessions, triggered after the 2008 global financial collapse. Like many western powers, I think they have found themselves falling behind due to a lack of investments in possible growth sectors of the economy coupled with being burdened by high social services costs.

In order for the economy to turn around, I think they need to get aggressive on job creation and infrastructure spending and ease off on drastically reducing transfer payments to local council governments. Spending on building roads, bridges and other public works helped to insulate the Canadian economy from some of the fallout after 2008. So did a strong hand from the Bank of Canada with policies of low interest rates.

Will incoming Bank of England Governor Mark Carney make a difference? He could be a help, but it is going to take a concerted effort by both Westminster and Carney to turn the ship around.

Q: What do you see happening in the future?

 

A: If the British government does not ease up on a series of deep funding cuts to local governments combined with measures that tax the poor – such as the bedroom tax for those living in social housing – there is a real recipe for unrest in the coming months.

Youth unemployment looms large in some areas, for instance in Tottenham it is 55 per cent. In Liverpool it is more than 25 per cent in some neighbourhoods.

Local governments are being forced to shut down youth sports programs, women’s shelters, libraries and other community services.

When that happens, there's more harm than good results.

Tanya Talaga is the Star’s Global Economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga

 

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