Britain’s riots were partly due to the deprivation of “500,000 forgotten families who bump along the bottom of society”, an independent report into the violence that hit England last August has concluded.
“There are people bumping along the bottom, unable to change their lives,” the chairman of the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, Darra Singh, said.
“When people don’t feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating.”
The report also pointed to widespread illiteracy, hopelessness over youth unemployment, poor parenting, materialism, suspicion of police and the failure of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders as factors in the unrest.
The government, which appointed the panel, refused to comment because the report had been leaked ahead of time and was not due for release until yesterday, London time.
The panel was appointed by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his deputy, Nick Clegg, after riots erupted in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other big cities following the police shooting of a young black man, Mark Duggan.
The report said too many of the most vulnerable children and young people were failed by the system, with one-fifth of secondary school leavers having literacy at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old.
This follows comments last week from the London mayor, Boris Johnson, that in seven London boroughs, 25 per cent of children left school functionally illiterate, a figure that rose to nearly 50 per cent in some schools.
The report said schools should be made to pay for special English lessons for struggling students and that they should assess children’s strength of character and help them build “self-discipline, application, the ability to defer gratification and resilience in recovering from setbacks”.
It recommended that specially trained nurses advise all first-time mothers under 18, that schools and social services contact absent fathers about their children, and the establishment of a “youth job promise” for all young people out of work for more than two years. Britain has nearly a million jobless aged under 25.
The report found 15,000 mostly young people took part in the violence, with “countless more bystanders observing”.
Looting made up more than half the recorded offences and often involved products such as trainers, mobile phones, computers and designer clothes. The report called for young people to be “protected from excessive marketing”.
It found young people were suspicious of police, who have powers to stop and search without cause.
The Labour MP Diane Abbott, whose constituency of Hackney saw some of the fiercest rioting, told The Guardian that communities “feel harassed by the police and marginalised by their job prospects, and are bombarded with reminders of lives they will, in all likelihood, never have”.
“In the week after we have seen the top rate of tax for millionaires cut, and the Conservative Party hawking intimate dinners with the Prime Minister for £250,000 [$381,512] a go, I think communities like mine are absolutely sick of being told: ‘We’re all in this together’, when it’s absolutely clear that we’re not all in it together.”
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.