There has been much focus on retribution in the aftermath of the riots in England. The courts have handed out some truly draconian sentences for what in the normal run of things would be considered minor offences. Some politicians have even attempted to climb onto the moral high ground to talk about single parents, family breakdown etc. What next bankers on how to live frugally?Some rather more useful comments came from east London priest Monsignor John Armitage who spoke of the greed and selfishness in society and the demise of family life. Oldham priest Father Phil Sumner pointed out that simply vilifying those who committed the crimes will achieve nothing beyond making matters worse. "People don't accept the values of society until they value themselves. They feel excluded by society and left behind, so they don't care what society says," said Father Sumner, who lamented the growing margins.
Picking up on the family theme, Alison Gelder, chief executive of Housing Justice, expressed her exasperation that "no one talks about the need to find a way out of the situation we are in where, even if there are two devoted parents, they both have to work full time just to afford a decent home." "I want a world where parents can afford to choose to be at home with and for their children, right up to school leaving age," said Mrs Gelder.Family breakdown, community disintegration and the increasingly alienated class of people who do not share in the wealth of our celebrity led culture all form part of the problem.Work has been lauded as a far more superior function to bringing up children. Indeed in most cases both parents have to work in order to raise children. A recent survey found that the average child had just 40 minutes with their parent.The binding idealogy that determines the society in which we live is market capitalism. It is a machine that has come to dominate everyones lives. If you do not serve the machine you have no part in the society or value to it. This has particular implictions for the old and young.
Other attributes of the most recent form of neo-liberal capitalism have seen the promotion of greed as a virtue. When in the 1980s Oliver Stone made his film Wall Street, the intention was that the main character Gordon Gecko would be viewed as the epitomy of all that is bad in society. The phrase greed is good became synonomous with the character. However, instead of exposing the appalling society being created, the Gecko figure became a role model for many in the banking and trading worlds. Roll on 25 years and we had the banking crisis. Now the riots, I am what I have and if I cannot get it through "legitmate means" I'll take it anyway.The evolution of the neo-liberal market economic system has seen the rich get richer, whilst the mass of poor get poorer. The polarisation of rich to poor has now reached epic proportions. The workforce is now made up of people working longer for less pay. Family life has been one of the main casualties of this process. If society really wants to get to grips with the problems thrown up by the riots then a new economic system must be developed with different values. People not profit must be put first. Family life should become a central tenent of this model. This is not be confused with the idea of a model family. Single parents, two parents doesn't matter. What does matter is that space is made for parenting and bringing up children. The role of the parent must be recognised, rewarded and celebrated.Community needs rebuilding. The society must get away from this purile self seeking individualism. Giving something to the community should be lauded. Schools and education have a role to play. Education should be open to all free and for all of their lives, something people can step in and out of. Schools should not just be exam factories preparing the child to become a cog in a corporate wheel.Failure to address these issues will lead to more riots and a truly ugly society. The super rich will retire to their gated communities protected by security companies, whilst disorder reigns beyond the gates. The margins will grow, with the prison populations expanding. More lives will be wasted. The choice is stark, begin putting our society back together again, which requires a new economic model or continue towards the abyss, blaimng individual criminality and gang culture.