Solving Britain’s Social Crisis Will Take Courage

In response to kind enquiries from various parts of the world – yes, your London correspondent is all right, and the riots have not (yet?) reached our particular suburb of London.

But Croydon – our main shopping centre when I was a child – has been badly affected. Shops burned, businesses destroyed, streets despoiled. The Reeves furniture shop, which gave its name to Reeves Corner, where the buses stopped and where we’d get off for shopping in George Street and perhaps, if we were lucky, a milk shake at a Wimpy bar…is gone. Burned out. The Reeves family have owned and run that shop for over a hundred years – not particularly long in the context of Croydon’s history, which dates back more than a thousand years, but long enough to be an established presence and the shop was on a human scale and a link with the past which was reassuring with the rest of the town dominated by skyscrapers and massive blocks of concrete and glass.

The children who have been thieving and bashing people, gloating over stolen goods and braying with excitement as homes and hops burn, are the new inheritors of Croydon and other town and cities. They are the direct result of official social policies which have denigrated marriage and family life, forced Biblical values to the margins, encouraged free-ranging sexual activity among the young, and condemned any suggestion of moral absolutes.

For years – and particularly during the Blair government beginning in the 1990s – any suggestion that children needed fathers as well as mothers to bring them up, and that stable homes based on marriage as the necessary centre of community life, was marked as “discriminatory” and blocked from effective engagement with public policy. In schools, children were – and are – not taught any adequate history, so that the saga of Britain’s centuries, and the sense of belonging to a community with an identity and heritage was/is unknown to them. Basic literacy skills were hard to achieve with children who lacked discipline, ordered homes, structured lives and ability to concentrate.

And all this has not just affected one generation, but two, and in some cases three, so that moral confusion, fatherless boys with a complete absence of any male authority, functional illiteracy and an emphasis on consumerism have become the norm among whole groups of people.

The pitiful results of this are not necessarily poor in the conventional sense: they are well-nourished and tall and strong, they have fashionable jeans and trainers and mobile phones. But they are utterly impoverished in the crucial life skills that were once passed on through families and schools and community life: kindness, generosity, helpfulness to neighbours, compassion for the ill and the elderly, respect for property. They are cruel, self-centred, frightening, and angry.

The current cry is that in response to this we must now have more police on our streets. Many of those making this cry have been at the forefront of celebrating and promoting policies which have wrecked family life and blocked the transmission of crucial moral values. Now they are frightened. Life in Britain is becoming nasty.

What to do? No genius is needed: it is perfectly possible to change social policies. But it’s going to be difficult and it will take courage. And even if we do get a massive change, and marriage and fatherhood are once again honoured, schools are allowed to impose discipline, moral values can be communicated without fear of accusations of bigotry, and so on, we will still have to cope with those who have been so badly affected by current policies that their lives have been almost irretrievably blighted.

Christians must take on big responsibilities – fortunately God always seems to raise up Christians who seem capable of this and there are signs that the Church will not lack them in Britain (see my previous blog post about Catholic youth events this summer). Your prayers will help.