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28 March 2012

Reading the Riot Act: ‘500,000 forgotten families’ identified

Reading the Riot Act: ‘500,000 forgotten families’ identified

This week the final report of an independent panel into last year’s riots in English cities was published. Up to 15,000 people were believed to have taken part in the riots - with the majority of those aged under 24.

After speaking to many people in the communities affected by the violence and looting, the overwhelming consensus was that family breakdown was the main factor. Pulling no punches, the report stated:  

"Families aren't getting the support they need."

Identifying 500,000 “forgotten families”, the report panel chairman Darra Singh OBE said: "We must give everyone a stake in society. There are people 'bumping along the bottom', unable to change their lives. When people don't feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating.”

The report acknowledges a complexity of issues that contributed to the disturbances, and makes a series of recommendations for government, local authorities, the criminal justice system and the police, but it has a strong emphasis upon the lack of family stability in the lives of those who participated in the rioting as the main cause. In education, the report was welcomed for calling upon schools to be required to develop plans and policies for ”building character”.

Seized upon by politicians such as Boris Johnson who sought to blame ”chillingly bad schools” for last summer’s riots, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools was quick to point out that schools have become ‘surrogate’ families to pupils due to bad parenting and the damaging influence of celebrity culture. The head of Ofsted warned that teachers are being forced to step into the ‘vacuum’ and set good examples ”where few exist at home”. He said that schools are often having to ”make up for wider failings” in society where children lack proper  ”family, cultural and community values”.

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham agreed that the focus on the role of schools was "a bit unfair".

He said: "Of course there are issues in our schools, but it is so easy when things go wrong to point to a big institution and say the schools should do more. I would place more emphasis on family life, on parents and on community."

All of this confirms the post-riots analysis that the Alliance provided last year which observed that we are raising our children in a toxic culture. Seeing a youth culture that is ”incentivised by the market and anesthatised by the state”, we stated:

“Things like family breakdown, the loss of fatherhood, lack of discipline in schools, the collapse of a sense of common good, the rise of individualism and human rights culture have long been highlighted by many Christian commentators – but have largely fallen on deaf ears. However, what has been described by one commentator as ‘the all-too-predictable outcome of a three-decade liberal experiment which tore up virtually every basic social value’ may now provide Christians with a renewed voice and a more attentive audience.”

The Christian response to the riots has been notable. In all of the affected communities, churches mobilised to pray and clean up the damage caused by the vandalism, looting and arson. Working together to support young people and families, organisations such as Eden, XLP and Street Pastors are operating in the heart of some of the most deprived communities in the country. Getting their hands dirty, getting involved in the brokenness of young people’s lives – they are moving in while others are moving out.

Churches like All Saints Peckham are delivering tangible community services that demonstrate the love of God practically. Working in schools and on the streets in a very multi-ethnic community they are committed to finding ways to connect with young people and to bring them hope.

While Christians are providing a vital role of reconcilliation and restoration, if we are to reach the 500,000 forgotten families that the report identifies, we will need political vision and leadership to answer the question that the Alliance posed directly after the riots – a question that will not go away without an answer:

“As a nation, how can we support the family and make it a bit easier to be a parent?”