In the charred and smoking aftermath of the worst riots this country has seen for (at least) a generation, Prime Minster David Cameron seems to have woken up to the fact that families could be at the heart of mending our “broken Britain”.
The Big Society idea first floated pre-election, and sounding good at the time has perhaps never seemed so far away, set against the backdrop of marauding packs of hooligans fighting pitched battle with the police, not in one deprived area uniting to protest on social issues (not that that would excuse it), but in hotspots across the country for the fun of it.
Since then, everyone and their mother has been on BBC News 24 or Sky News to have their say about what went wrong and how we fix it. One minute the images are showing people with brooms turning out to voluntarily clean up Clapham, the next supposed Good Samaritans helping up a lad who had been assaulted before rifling through his backpack as he stands there dazed. First people blamed the police for being too lenient with rioters, then they blamed the courts for handing out sentences that seemed too harsh for looters. Then the police came out in force and people suggested it wasn’t a good use of resources and sent the wrong message. The debates are still going round in circles. It is clear that there is no clear solution and emotions are still running high.
But it is the age of those involved that has shocked me most, with more than half of those charged with offences relating to the violence being under 18. And that led to the question: where are the parents?
Broken homes are not to blame for all the ills of this country or any other. They are commonplace in this day and age and some families are better off for it. But that is not to say there are not consequences of this happening. Traditionally, tight families led by strong matriarchs or patriarchs gave young people a sense of what is right and wrong – and a fear of the consequences if they got the two mixed up. With so many single parent families just struggling to get by, that guidance could be said to be missing in more homes than it once was.
Mr Cameron addressed this last week, saying he suspected many of the rioters did not have a father figure at home to help guide them. This is normal in some areas and fosters a gang culture as individuals seek refuge with other “families”.
“If we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start,” he said.
Mr Cameron also underlined his determination to introduce a “family test” for domestic policy, adding: “If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keep people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.”
He has spoken before about doing more to promote family unity and help couples stay together. Is this then the dawn of some concrete action to get things moving in that direction? Only time will tell – but I hope so.