British riots report puts focus on 'forgotten families'


AN INDEPENDENT panel set up by the British government to study the causes of last summer’s riots in England today calls for more people to be given “a stake in society” to help prevent a repeat of the disturbances.

The report, by the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, concludes that the riots were fuelled by a range of factors including a lack of opportunities for young people, poor parenting, a failure of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders, materialism and suspicion of the police.

“When people don’t feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating – as we saw last August,” said Darra Singh, chair of the panel.

The report says: “The key to avoiding future riots is to have communities that work.”

Recommendations include the fining of schools that fail to teach children how to read properly; earlier and better support for troubled families; a “youth job promise” to get more young people into work; and for primary and secondary schools to “undertake regular assessments of pupils’ strength of character”.

“The answers lie in different places: some are about personal or family responsibility and others are about what the state or the private or voluntary sectors should do better or differently,” the report says. “Public services describe a group of approximately 500,000 ‘forgotten families’ who bump along the bottom of society.”

The panel, which visited 21 communities and interviewed thousands of people affected by the riots, says its recommendations “must be enacted together” if the risk of further riots is to be reduced.

Mr Singh said: “We must give everyone a stake in society. There are people ‘bumping along the bottom’, unable to change their lives. We urge party leaders to consider the importance of all of our recommendations.”

The report suggests the government’s Troubled Families Programme (TFP), set up after the riots, may be aiming at the wrong target. TFP, led by Louise Casey, identified 120,000 families needing intervention to turn their lives around and prevent their members reoffending.

However, of the 80 local borough authorities polled by the panel, only 5 per cent thought there was any crossover between families targeted by TFP and the families of rioters.

The report raises concerns that some schools are excluding pupils for the wrong reasons. Children should be excluded only as a last resort, and should only ever be moved to quality alternative provision. If children leave school unable to read properly, the school should face a financial penalty covering the cost of the child getting the extra help they need at their new school, the report says.

“Every child should be able to read and write to an age-appropriate standard by the time they leave primary and then secondary school,” the report says.

“If they cannot, the school should face a financial penalty equivalent to the cost of funding remedial support to take the child to the appropriate standard.”

It also urges schools to help children “build personal resilience” to help them avoid getting involved in future rioting. It claims that what often determines whether someone makes “the right choice in the heat of the moment” is “character”, which it defines as “self-discipline, application, the ability to defer gratification and resilience in recovering from setbacks”.

Local businesses should get more involved with schools to promote youth employment and the government should provide a job guarantee for all young people out of work for more than two years, it says.

The report points out that half the recorded offences in the riots were for looting, often of high-value products including designer clothes, trainers, mobile phones and computers. It calls for young people to be “protected from excessive marketing” and for the UK Advertising Standards Authority to work to increase children’s resilience to advertising. It recommends the appointment of an “independent champion to manage a dialogue between government and big brands”.

The four-member panel was nominated by the three main political parties. The report is one of several pieces of research into the causes of the riots. A study by the Guardian and the London School of Economics published last year, based on interviews with 270 rioters, revealed that frustration at the way police engaged with communities was a major cause. Many rioters also conceded that their involvement in looting was simply down to opportunism.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the charity Kids Company, said of today’s report that the 500,000 figure for families in difficulties was an underestimate.

She added that the panel had adopted “a middle-class model” by suggesting that the key to preventing offending lay in working with young people’s families. “They are still assuming the young person’s family is intact, whereas 84 per cent of the children who come to us are runaways,” she said.

Shauneen Lambe, executive director at Just for Kids Law, which has acted for numerous young people arrested after the riots, agreed that unemployment and illiteracy played a part.

“One of the things that really concerns us is how young people are criminalised in a way that previous generations just weren’t – which really blights their job prospects,” she said.

Earl Jenkins, a learning support mentor, was one of up to 60 youth workers who went on to the streets during the disturbances to persuade youngsters not to get involved. He said: “If you’ve got nothing to lose, you’ll do what you can to survive, won’t you?”

– (Guardian service)