I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the whole country is in a state of shock following the riots of the last seven days. The scenes we saw on our TV screens were ones I never thought I would see in this country. They threatened the very fabric of our society and showed just how fragile our normal way of life can be. The looting demonstrated that these were not riots with an underlying political message, they were riots motivated by pure greed, malice and avarice. Much has been written about the causes, but I think we need to understand less and condemn more.
Frankly, there is very little to understand. Most of the people involved were not impoverished. They did not live in poverty. Many of them were from good families and were clearly out for a kick. They got a buzz out of what they were doing. It became a drug. The only think we need to understand is that a generation of children have grown up without any of the normal moral values we expect parents and teachers to inculcate into them. They have little respect for anyone and there is a complete absence of fear. They don’t recognise the normal institutions of society like the church, parliament, the media or commerce. And they think the police are a joke.
Many of them haven’t had a male influence in their lives, and I don’t care what anyone says, that is one the major reasons why many young kids go off the rails. They don’t have fathers and there is an absence of male teachers in their schools. In some parts of London, 85% of families are single parent families. Don’t get me wrong. Many single parents do a fantastic job and this is not an attack on them. But our family unit has been diminished over the last few decades and this has, in part, led to a generation of almost feral youths growing up without the normal barriers in behaviour, which the rest of us respect. It is frightening that many primary school teachers say they are able to identify kids, who, at the age of seven, will probably go off the rails in their teenage years. But of course by then it is too late. The damage has been done.
SureStart was a brave attempt to attack this phenomenon but the parents who it was aimed at refuse to use it. Instead – and I know this is a generalisation – SureStart is populated by many mothers and children who don’t actually need it.
One solution, would be this. Instead of raising the school leaving age to 18, why not raise it to 17, and use the final year to take those who are not doing A Levels into a sort of boot camp. Youngsters would get the choice of a form of military service or community service. During the year they would be taught the value of community, respect for society, discipline etc. Yes, it would an expensive thing to do, and it probably wouldn’t rescue everyone, but it would bring people together from different backgrounds and allow them to discover themselves and the joys of working for the benefit of others. The government announced a small-scale scheme of community service volunteers a year ago. I suggest they should now think about massively expanding it.
- This is part of my fortnightly column in today’s Eastern Daily Press