“When people don't feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating,” the words of Darra Singh, chair of the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel. Established in the wake of last summer’s disturbances, the panel has now published its recommendations, in a week of contrasting examples of social cohesion. Alongside the unified outpouring of support for Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, following his cardiac arrest, we saw the sentencing of those responsible for shooting Thusha Kamaleswaran. A five year old victim of gang rivalries, she will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, a symptom, perhaps, of society’s fragile moral fabric seemingly loosening at the seams.
The rioting has been blamed on poor parenting, dwindling youth opportunities, insufficient criminal rehabilitation, and a lack of trust in the police. The socio-political usual suspects to some extent, but the report also raised interesting concerns about materialism, in relation to the widespread looting that accompanied the civil unrest.
With the highest jobless figures in 17 years, and youth unemployment a particularly potent problem, apathy born of limited options would account for much of the apparent ambivalence towards staying out of trouble. If you don’t have chances to ruin, consequences count for little. The parenting question is equally pivotal. An increasing climate of hopelessness exists in what the report refers to as half a million “forgotten families”. When there is no work ethic to be passed on, just frustration at falling incomes and expectations, small wonder we turn out offspring whose outlook indicates they feel they have nothing to lose.
“And where were their parents?” Is the cry often quoted, as the latest lay-about is lambasted in the law courts. Who are their parents, might well be more apt. You get what you settle for, in life, work and children. Some are so accustomed to low expectation, they may be surprised to find they can still be disappointed. The geographical and ethnic breakdown of these “forgotten families” will be illuminating. Hopelessness may be impartial, but fatherlessness is a patented part of the programme, in some sections of our multi-cultural melting pot. When even the fundamental responsibilities in life are routinely relinquished, the seeds of delinquency are easily sewn. Popular culture is equally culpable. When your role-models are not the pioneers of industry, but reality show detritus, then the expectation is of affluence for little effort. Against this backdrop, the issue of materialism is poignant and polarising. Are the Porsche and the ipad innocent expressions of success, the motivation to make something of yourself, or the very definition of having done so? If we’re cultivating a community that would sooner wear Cartier in a council house, than old cords in a castle, then risking jail for designer jeans should not appal us at all.