Riots panel calls for extension of troubled families programme

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An independent panel, set up following last summer's riots, has called for the government to give young unemployed people a guarantee of work and significantly expand its programme for troubled families.

Singh: 'Causes of the riots were complex'. Image: Derek Goard
Singh: 'Causes of the riots were complex'. Image: Derek Goard

The final report of the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel is calling for a raft of reforms to avoid a repeat of last summer’s disturbances.

Its investigation identified a lack of opportunities for young people, an inability of the justice system to prevent reoffending and a lack of confidence in the police.

While the government has already committed to supporting 120,000 troubled families the panel wants a far broader progamme that will support as many as 500,000 of what it refers to as "forgotten families".

The report also calls on the government and local public services to jointly fund a ‘youth job promise’ scheme to secure jobs for young people who have been out of work for a year.

Panel chair Darra Singh said: "The causes of the riots were complex and there is not one thing that will prevent them from happening again. But enacted together, our recommendations address the underlying reasons of why up to 15,000 people across the country became involved in some of the most significant disturbances we have seen."

Members voiced concern over data suggesting that one in five school leavers has the literacy skills of an 11-year-old or younger and called for schools that fail to teach children to read and write to pay "a financial penalty". Any money gained through such an initiative would be used to help pupils with literacy problems to catch up.

The Children’s Society’s policy director Enver Solomon said the conclusion that a lack of opportunities for young people was a major factor in the riots was "of little surprise".

"The majority of adults and children believe the government should be doing much more to support young people in the aftermath of the riots and the panel has set government a clear challenge to make this happen," he said.

Other factors in the disturbances, cited by residents surveyed by the panel, include poor parenting and the influence of brands and materialism on young people’s lives.

Dr Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said: "Parenting does not take place in a vacuum. Stretched family finances, the commercialisation of UK childhood, and on-going work/life balance challenges prevent people from being the kind of parents that they really want to be.

"We may be quick to hold parents responsible for the failings of their children but we also need to acknowledge the critical role played by society and our communities."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said that restoring the education maintenance allowance and scrapping university tuition fees would also help improve opportunities for young people.

"NUT members take the pastoral responsibility of schools very seriously but challenging and addressing society-wide inequity cannot be the task of schools alone," she said. "The problems that stem from poor housing, joblessness and poverty in all its forms cannot be for schools to solve."

Liam Preston, chair of the British Youth Council, criticised the panel for not making the involvement of young people central to its recommendations.

"BYC believes that young people are an integral part of communities and that to neglect their views and role will undermine all of our futures.

"So I’m disappointed to see that the riot panel did not give more thought to involving young people when putting together its recommendations.

"We cannot hope to strengthen communities without strengthening the role of the young people who live in them, so we are calling on decision makers to celebrate the difference young people are making to communities across the UK, and find new ways to nourish and invest in youth participation."

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