UK govt official vows help for youth after riots

AP News
Posted: Sep 21, 2011 11:15 AM
UK govt official vows help for youth after riots

Young people who looted stores as riots erupted across England last month were let down by a society that didn't allow them to have faith in their own futures, Britain's deputy prime minister said Wednesday.

Addressing an annual rally of his Liberal Democrat party, the junior partner in Britain's coalition government, Nick Clegg pledged new help for disadvantaged youths to divert them from criminality.

Arson, disorder and theft spread through London and other major English cities for four days in August. Five people were killed and scores of stores were looted, with youths blamed for inciting and carrying out much of the damage.

"Nobody could fail to be horrified by what we saw during the riots," Clegg said in a speech closing his party's four-day rally. "These weren't organized campaigns for change. They were outbursts of nihilism and greed."

Prime Minister David Cameron has blamed the disorder on Britain's "moral collapse," and the Conservative-led government has vowed to tackle gang culture and offer intensive help to the country's 120,000 most troubled families.

Clegg said the riots had convinced him Britain must work more to help poor youngsters succeed in education.

"Too many of these young people had simply fallen through the cracks. Not just this summer but many summers ago when they lost touch with their own future," Clegg told the conference in the central English city of Birmingham.

"So often the people who have gone off the rails are the ones who were struggling years earlier," he said.

Clegg announced that Britain will spend 50 million pounds ($78 million) to fund two-week summer schools to help struggling children improve their English and math as they move from junior schools to high schools at the age of 11.

"We know this is a time when too many children lose their way," Clegg said. "This is (an) ... investment to keep them all on the right path."

Britain's justice ministry said last week that the latest figures, which detail court appearances up to Sept. 12, show that 1,715 people have been charged with offenses connected to the riots _ 364 of whom are aged under 16.

A total of 176 people have been jailed so far, including 26 juveniles.

"The rioters are not the face of Britain's young people. The vast majority of our young people are good, decent and doing the best they can," Clegg said.

During Britain's 2010 election campaign, Clegg initially rode a wave of popularity as he benefited from exposure in the country's first-ever televised leadership debates, but struggled to translate that into success at the polls.

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His party lost five of its 62 seats in the House of Commons during an election which no party won outright.

Since then, Clegg's Liberal Democrats also failed to win a public referendum on changing Britain's voting system, and the leader has been the target of scorn for reversing previous policies _ particularly a pre-election pledge to oppose any hike in university tuition fees.

Legislators in the House of Commons approved a plan last year to triple university fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year.

Clegg acknowledged his party has suffered so far from its alliance with Cameron's Conservatives, but vowed it would eventually win reward in the long term for repairing the country's shattered economy.

Britain's government is driving through 81 billion pounds ($132 billion) of spending cuts aimed at slashing the country's deficit.

"You don't play politics at a time of national crisis. You don't play politics with the economy. And you never, ever play politics with people's jobs," he told the rally.