London riots: Absent fathers have a lot to answer for

Here are three numbers to bear in mind when talking of the riots: 8 billion (pounds spent by social services each year on children and young people); 3.5 million (children from a broken home); and one fifth (school leavers who are illiterate).

Given that the £8 billion spent by social services on children and young people is a significant increase on the amount they spent, say, five years ago, talk of cuts triggering the riots makes no sense. Even when Labour Governments increased spending on social security, the results were hardly encouraging: the population of young offenders didn’t shrink, it increased. So did drug and alcohol addiction among the young.

But let’s look at the second number. A large and increasing number of youngsters are brought up without dads. The majority of rioters are gang members whose only loyalty is to the group and whose only authority figure is the toughest of the bunch. Like the overwhelming majority of youth offenders behind bars, these gang members have one thing in common: no father at home.

When the journalist Harriet Sergeant spent a year talking with gang members in the inner city, she discovered youngsters without male role models. Their notion of family life was chaotic and conflicted. Mother lived alone or with a succession of men. Work was something losers did – much better and more immediate financial reward came from milking the benefits system. Schooling offered no escape: illiteracy was ride, with most children leaving primary school unable to read or write, let alone do simple sums.

The commentariat won’t like it, but rioters would not stop in their tracks if their local authority were to reinstate their library. They would, however, feel very differently about life and about themselves if their father were to spend time with them, cheer them on to do better, and warn them about bad friends and dangerous substances.

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