Help 'forgotten families', says riots report

Panel says half a million UK families need support, and calls for penalties for schools that fail children

Half a million "forgotten families" who "bump along the bottom" need help to reintegrate them into mainstream society, the independent panel into the summer riots concluded in a report published today.

It was also scathing about the low educational attainment of some teenagers, calling for financial penalties for schools that fail to teach them basic levels of literacy.

The panel was appointed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to explore the background to the riots that erupted in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other major English cities last August.

It suggested measures for helping to turn round the lives of the 500,000 most disadvantaged families. It called for specially-trained nurses to offer advice to all first-time mothers aged under 18 and for absent fathers to be contacted about their children by schools and social services. The panel said: "We must give everyone a stake in society."

Warning that action was needed to tackle the root causes of the disturbances, it said too many of the "most vulnerable children and young people are failed by the system" and pointed out that one-fifth of secondary school-leavers had a literacy level at or below that expected of an 11-year-old.

The panel said schools should be made to pay for English lessons for underperforming young pupils: "Given that we spend anywhere between £6,000 and £18,000 per year in each child's education, we believe no one should leave school without basic literacy skills. We recommend that schools failing to raise the literacy rate of a child to an age-appropriate standard should cover the financial cost of raising their attainment when they move on to a new provider."

The report found up to 15,000 people, mostly aged under 24, actively took part in the violence, with "countless more bystanders observing".

It suggested that the desire for designer brands fuelled involvement in the violence, concluding that the riots were characterised by "opportunistic looting". It said most shops that were targeted sold "high-value consumer products", such as mobile telephones, computers, designer clothes and trainers.

More than half of 1,200 people surveyed by the panel in six areas hit by the trouble feared there was a "growing gap between rich and poor" in their neighbourhood, with 85 per cent saying advertising puts pressure on young people to own the latest products.

Darra Singh, the panel's chairman, said: "When people don't feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating – as we saw last August."

Enver Solomon, policy director of the Children's Society, said: "We know from our work there is a significant link between a child's material deprivation and their overall life satisfaction. The panel has rightly identified the need for services to more effectively work with forgotten families and support every child to achieve their potential."

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles welcomed the report, saying: "Just as the Panel has established that there was no single cause of the riots, it is clear that there can be no single solution. But many of the recommendations in the report chime with this Government's clear ambition to give power back to communities, reform and join up public services and extend opportunities for young people."

He added: "We should not forget that the strength of our communities was shown not by the actions of a criminal few determined to wreak havoc but by the actions of the majority of local people who pulled together in the aftermath, cleaned up the mess and supported their neighbours to restore pride in the places they call home."

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