Television and the Young: Lilley blames family breakdown for crime

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The Independent Online
THE FAMILIAR Conservative theme of the breakdown in family values returned to the agenda yesterday as Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, pinpointed it as a cause of crime.

His view that 'most people believe that the disintegration of the family has something to do with it' was criticised by his Labour opposite number, Donald Dewar, as a pat and convenient Tory theory.

Also levelling some blame at broadcasters, Mr Lilley said: 'It's very hard to believe that when children see 100 deaths on television screens in a week that that has no effect on their sensitivity to violence.'

Mr Lilley said that during the boom of the Eighties, crime rose, if anything, faster than during the recession. Removing unemployment, poverty and bad housing would still leave a crime problem: under pre-war poverty, children did not turn to crime. 'We have to look for causes elsewhere.'

Mr Lilley told BBC radio's The World This Weekend that one small thing the Government had done was to require both parents to help maintain their children where the family had split up. Fathers who failed to maintain their children left them 'knowing that father doesn't care a penny for them, which must be bad psychologically for them'.

The most important thing was to reaffirm the principle of parental responsibility, Mr Lilley said.

Mr Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, told the Independent: 'I certainly support the principle that parents have a duty to support financially and guide their children.'

But it was too convenient to blame the rise in crime on a change in social values. 'It is another example of Tories going for a comfortable theory that largely exonerates themselves. What I think is crucial is that parents, whether they are together or separated, set an example and give guidance.

'Perhaps Mr Lilley could think about an economic situation which means that 70 per of lone parents are unemployed, the lack of child care and support facilities, as a rather more practical problem than his moral theories.'

Economic pressures made things harder, Mr Dewar said. 'I don't believe that a lone parent family is a family incapable of providing the right setting for a child . . . Family values are important, but it's far too pat to assume that the break-up of a marriage is a reason for these problems.'