DUBLIN, August 11, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Everyone wants someone to blame for the urban riots which have literally shaken London, Birmingham and other major British cities in the past week. That is understandable, since the statistics emerging are grim: at least four people directly killed, many others left seriously injured, £100 million in damage caused to businesses and to homes, and whole sections of the community terrified and living under siege.
In the blame game, the lines are, predictably and unhelpfully, already clearly demarcated as the political parties and commentators on the media spectrum jostle for position. The Tories insist this is a law and order matter, while Labour blame the spending cuts ushered in under the Coalition. The [far-left] Guardian says that young people are alienated and abandoned, while the Telegraph blames the parents, and others cite unemployment, the failure of the education system, poverty and lack of opportunity.
In fact, all of these are valid observations, but some factors are more fundamental than others. Social order in some communities - and unfortunately more often in the most vulnerable communities - is breaking down. And it is being driven by an unprecedented breakdown of the family, which in turn is causing a vicious cycle of poverty, lack of education, lawlessness and further erosion of the basic values people need to keep society in order.
It is difficult to say this without being accused of targeting single mothers or attacking absent fathers. I know many single mothers who are doing an amazing job, in difficult circumstances, and who have raised the best of kids. And there certainly are other pressing issues which need to be tackled, such as the fact that there are huge inequalities of income and opportunity in British society.
But some facts are so startling, and some effects so obvious, that even the most liberal newspaper of the British press, the Guardian, is now acknowledging that lack of family structure is creating a huge problem. On Wednesday, the paper interviewed a youth worker from Tottenham who has spent 30 years working with disadvantaged communities. He said that parental authority had now been eroded to the point where the parents of rioting children would be afraid to discipline them.
His views were echoed by the local MP David Lammy who commented, “There is none of the basic starting presumption of two adults who want to start a family, raise children together, love them, nourish them and lead them to full independence. The parents are not married and the child has come, frankly, out of casual sex; the father is not present, and is not expected to be. There are not the networks of extended families to make up for it. We are seeing huge consequences of the lack of male role models in young men’s lives.”
There are 3.5 million children from broken homes in Britain. Their growing numbers, and the effect on of family breakdown on children, caused a leading family law court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, to recently describe the scale of the problem as “social anarchy” and to urge the government to work to promote marriage.
The decline of marriage has left a significant proportion of children with a confused understanding of stability and of boundaries. And the lack of a male role model means that young men in particular seek out the toughest in the gang for an authority figure rather than their father. That means just one bad apple can influence a whole community of young teens.
The rioters this week were mostly teenagers, young people who seemed to believe that the best way of expressing their discontent was to loot, smash and assault innocent people. Some of them were just kids: one an 11-year-old boy who is before Highbury Corner Youth Court as part of a gang who looted a Debenhams store on Monday night.
Some commentators called the looters feral. But though they were obviously terrifying to the unfortunate people caught up in the rioting and burning, I think that description lets the people who have contributed to this mess off the hook. The truth is that society is falling apart (and it is happening here as well as in Britain) mostly because of the social engineering which is driven by the affluent chattering classes.
The most-educated and the most-privileged love to imagine themselves as radicals pushing out boundaries and tearing down social constructs (such as that daft old-fashioned notion, marriage), but their own lives usually remain as stable and secure as self-preservation and common sense has always dictated.
So, while liberal (usually affluent) policy-makers have spent decades talking down morality and ridiculing “old-fashioned” notions of family values, they make sure that their own families benefit from the security those values bring to their lives. Meanwhile, working class children increasingly grow up without a Dad or a sense of responsibility, and the rates of teenage pregnancy, poverty, school dropout and crime continue to spiral.
In opposition David Cameron talked a lot about British society being “broken,” and what he would do to bolster marriage and the family. Since taking office, though, precious little has been done.
It is time that Britain - and Ireland - faced up to the evidence that the fractured family has everything to do with the fact that a significant number of young people do not accept any authority, see crime and violence as a glamorous way of life, and will go on to be absent from their own children’s lives. Early reports indicate that a small number of the accused rioters now appearing in court come from more affluent backgrounds than was previously expected. Now that the problem is starting to seep out of disadvantaged areas, maybe the policy makers will act, even if just to protect themselves.
It is pointless for David Cameron to talk tough on law and order unless he gets serious about fixing the family in Britain. Otherwise, he can lock up each and every one of the young men who smashed their own areas to pieces, but they will simply be replaced by more looters and rioters - and in increasing numbers.
Niamh Ui Bhriain is the head of Dublin’s Life Institute and a long-time campaigner in the political realm, defending the family and Ireland’s pro-life laws