Policy failures have bred a feral British underclass

Piccadilly Circus. Last year. Late afternoon. Packed streets. A young man, English, white, skinny, comes up to me and asks for money.

I shake my head and say just one word: ''No.''

His eyes narrow and he responds: ''Foreign c---.''

Why did it take so long for the menace within Britain to manifest itself more clearly? There are many places in many English cities to which I do not want to go and my friends who live in Britain do not want to go.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Watch how the riots spread out from London

Places where the British underclass has incubated over generations of failed policy, behind inviolate barriers of class and social immobility, and home to a feral, fertile, fourth-generation welfare population.

Compared with its European peer group, Britain is off the charts on many measures of social dysfunction. Its rate of teenage pregnancy is almost three times the average for the other large advanced economies in western Europe - Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

According to the European Commission, Britain has the highest number of violent crimes per capita in western Europe, and far more than its peer group of large economies.

Britain was the most violent nation in western Europe when it had a Labour government that was debasing the Treasury with social spending. So this violence goes much deeper than the spending cuts made by the coalition government digging Britain out from under a debt mountain.

One young friend, currently visiting from Scotland, where she attends university, told me she avoids the ''neds'' that plague the country. I'd never heard the term. It means ''no education delinquents''.

In many ways, the violence on the streets of British cities is no more than a new variation on an old theme. How long have English and Scottish football fans been feared around Europe for the violence they brought to games? Decades.

I've seen more violence and felt more menace attending half a dozen big football matches in England and Scotland than I've ever seen attending league, union and gridiron matches in Australia and the US.

Where, you might ask, are the parents of the young men in hoodies who have been goading police, looting stores and throwing bottles at ambulances in front of TV cameras? Why do the police look so tentative and impotent in the face of provocation? Why is the Home Secretary banging on about police work being about ''consent''? This is not just a social failure, it is a policy failure.

This pot has been simmering for a long time. The Coalition government inherited a mess from Gordon Brown. Thirteen years of big-spending Labour governments under Tony Blair and Brown, at a time when they should have been weather-proofing the budget during growth years, left Britain running a budget deficit comparable with that of Greece. The coalition inherited Britain's largest budget deficit and national debt outside wartime, driven by social spending that perpetuated a welfare economy.

Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition has since ground the budget deficit down from 10.4 per cent of GDP to about 8.3 per cent this financial year, and held Britain's sovereign debt to 77 per cent of GDP (compared with 100 per cent for the US), but the stress of such necessary discipline is showing.

Much is made of the income inequality and social division in Britain, and it is real and unhealthy. But so, too, is the culture of welfare dependency.

A genuine attempt to break the destructive cycle is now under way by a former leader of the Tories, Iain Duncan Smith, in his role as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

He has committed to ending a destructive cycle where the poor face huge penalties for trying to get off benefits and into work.

In his key policy speech in May he said: ''A system that was originally designed to help support the poorest in society is now trapping them in the very condition it was supposed to alleviate. Instead of helping, a deeply unfair benefits system too often writes people off.

''The proportion of people parked on inactive benefits has almost tripled in the past 30 years to 41 per cent of the inactive working age population. That is a tragedy.''

It is also one of the root causes of the moral vacuum that burned a hole in Britain this week.

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