Straw: ‘Lads need dads’ to stop gang violence

Jack Straw said today the government cannot stem the “continuing problem” of gang violence alone and called on the black community to provide more full models.

The justice secretary blamed absent fathers for encouraging young black men to join gangs.

Pointing to the different achievements of black girls and boys from the same backgrounds, he argued economics alone could not be driving young men into gangs.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “One of the striking things is the difference between the attitude and the success in life of black girls from exactly the same backgrounds compared to black boys.”

At GCSE level, black girls are performing in-line with the general population, whereas their male counterparts have seen their performance fall behind since entering secondary school.

Mr Straw continued: “It’s a cultural problem. It’s the absence of fathers who are actively involved in parenting.

“And as we know – lads need dads. Of course they need their mums as well, but there is a particular point in teenagers’ development, of young men, where fathers are very important and they are more likely to be absent in the case of the Afro-Caribbean.”

He was responding to US civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson, who said inner city violence was rooted in the “economics of desperation”.

Rev Jackson is in the country to launch Equanomics UK, which focuses on wage inequality, poverty and the impact of credit and debt on black communities.

He argued criminals were “profiting” from selling guns in deprived communities. He also criticised the government’s policies, arguing the money spent on building more prison places would be better spent on pre-natal care and education.

Rev Jackson said black and ethnic minority communities need to play a greater role in politics, criticising their lack of representation in the UK.

Yesterday, Mr Straw welcomed a scheme designed to curb black gang violence by promoting role models and introducing mentoring schemes.

The initiative was launched by Sir Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. The scheme will see black military officers work alongside young people to deter them from joining gangs.

Mr Straw said the best examples for disaffected black youngsters are other successful black people.

The scheme has not escaped controversy, however, due to the involvement of Patrick Mercer, who was sacked from the Tory frontbench after he said it was normal for black soldiers to be called “black bastards”.

Mr Mercer said his involvement was not related to his comments in March. He said: “It all sounds as if I am trying a bit too hard but this is one of a number of projects like this that I have been involved in.

“This is just the work I am getting on with as part of the broad remit of a backbench Member of Parliament who happens to have a great interest in these things.”

Mr Straw welcomed Mr Mercer’s involvements, saying any initiatives would need non-partisan support to succeed.