In this week’s blog, Fr Paddy reflects on the recent riots in England and how some young people are starved of opportunity, equality and love.

Generation Lost – British Riots

British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, recently recalled parliament from its summer recess in order to debate the issue of violence and criminality, that has caused such devastation on the streets of London and many other UK cities. The Prime Minister, returned home from a holiday in Tuscany, to chair a meeting of the Governments Emergency Committee, ‘COBRA’. I couldn’t help, but contrast, his holiday experience to perhaps the harsh reality of life in which many of these young people endure. The Prime Minister and many other influential political leaders correctly condemned violence, looting and horrible criminal activity. However, I suggest condemnation is one thing, but trying to engage with the why? of such riots perhaps leads us to a different tone of judgement.

Croydon, Ealing and Hackney were among the worst affected as gangs took to the streets, fighting pitched battles with riot police on main roads, smashing windows and looting shops. Some gang members, who rioted were as young as nine years of age. One commentator, described this sub-culture as ‘generation lost’. Lost in terms of parental discipline, moral values and sense of purpose. Many of these young people come from extremely dysfunctional families, void of hope and love. Speaking about his experience in jail, one youth after being arrested commented that it was the first ‘decent bit of food’ he had received in months.

There is a generation, in deep trouble, not just on the streets of London but in every town and village in our country. Young people always respond well to discipline. The primary formator for every young person, surely are their parents. When parental guidance and good example is not present, one can expect the riotous behaviour of recent times. In many ways the British riots can be interpreted as a cry for help. A symptom of young people, starved of opportunity, equality and love. Croydon recently was severely cut back due to budget amendments. Simply this meant, that social services could not fund summer services to young people. Such services in the past enabled young people to come together in a constructive and positive manner. While the cost of rebuilding Croydon amounts to tens of millions, surely services responding to the most vulnerable should never have been cut.

Often it is easy to criticise and condemn but the living conditions and life experience of so many young people is truly horrible. In a time when in our own country ministers are preparing for yet again more cut-backs. Surely the UK riots must be a reminder that the most vulnerable need protection and real support. ‘Generation lost’ don’t go out to vote, nor attend mainstream education and are part and parcel of a social welfare mentality that needs to be seriously evaluated. However, this generation arguably are also the most punished when it comes to government cut-backs, from social services to education, health and employment opportunities.

I recently visited a young man, a heroin addict in Mountjoy Jail. He shared with me that there is nothing for him on the ‘outside’. This is the lonely and uncomfortable reality that many vulnerable young people live with. Both parents of this young man died tragically from heroin addiction.