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There is an emerging analysis that while on the one hand there is "no excuse" for the wave of rioting, looting and wanton violence that swept London and other British cities last week, on the other hand there really is an excuse: social exclusion and systemic discrimination. Accordingly, the hoodlums are really victims, their violence and mayhem only a plaintive cry for help. They are not depraved but deprived. It is a ludicrous suggestion, one that flies in the face of two decades worth of massive expenditures in poverty-stricken areas designed to improve the opportunities, particularly, of inner city youth.

Billions of pounds have been spent in Britain on improving schools, social housing, and community facilities in the inner city, and billions more spent on benefits for the unemployed, coupled with major overhauls of the police services to root out systemic prejudice. Indeed, Britain has in recent years had a higher level of social expenditure as a proportion of GDP than either Canada or the United States. A study by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics looked at the policies of the former Labour government of Tony Blair, and concluded "the government has taken poverty and social exclusion very seriously," citing numerous examples of improvements, including decreases in child poverty, and evidence showing the poorest schools were improving the fastest. "In some of the most important areas, the tide has turned," the study concluded.

David Cameron's Conservative government, supported by the Liberal Democrats, has been in office only a little more than a year. It has inherited a country facing a severe fiscal crisis, and of necessity has begun to reduce government spending, but those cuts have not yet worked their way through the system. What is more, the Prime Minister has argued that Britain needed "social recovery" to accompany economic recovery, and has launched an ambitious vision for a Big Society, to give more power to local people and open up public services to voluntary and private operators. Among other innovations, the government is establishing a social investment bank. This is not a government in retreat from its obligations, it's a government asking people to have a stake in their community.

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Is it possible that sometimes, hooligans are just that, hooligans?

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