David Cameron has hit out at a “slow-motion moral collapse” and said family and parenting is the place to start to fix society.
In a speech following the riots in English cities the Prime Minister said social problems that have been “festering for decades” have “exploded in our face”.
And said that politicians have been “too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong”.
Mr Cameron also said he wanted a “family test” applied to all domestic policy.
He said: “If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.”
Labour Leader Ed Miliband, speaking on the same day, said deep questions needed to be asked about parental “irresponsibility”.
While Mr Miliband said it was not “all about family breakdown”, he said questions needed to be asked about “why some parents are not teaching their children the difference between right and wrong”.
The Prime Minister said people were asking again and again, “‘where are the parents? Why aren’t they keeping the rioting kids indoors?'”
He continued: “Tragically that’s been followed in some cases by judges rightly lamenting: ‘why don’t the parents even turn up when their children are in court?’
“Well, join the dots and you have a clear idea about why some of these young people were behaving so terribly.
“Either there was no one at home, they didn’t much care or they’d lost control.
“Families matter”, Mr Cameron said, and added that he did not doubt that many of the people who rioted this month have “no father at home”.
He said the rioters perhaps came from “one of the neighbourhoods where it’s standard for children to have a mum and not a dad” or “where it’s normal for young men to grow up without a male role model, looking to the streets for their father figures, filled up with rage and anger.”
“So”, the Prime Minister commented, “if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start.”
And the Prime Minister noted that politicians “shying away” from “speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality”, has “actually helped to cause the social problems we see around us”.
He said: “We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said – about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy.”
And Mr Cameron said: “In this risk-free ground of moral neutrality there are no bad choices, just different lifestyles.
“People aren’t the architects of their own problems, they are victims of circumstance. ‘Live and let live’ becomes ‘do what you please.'”
But, he continued, what the riots have shown is “that this moral neutrality, this relativism – it’s not going to cut it any more”.
He continued: “One of the biggest lessons of these riots is that we’ve got to talk honestly about behaviour and then act – because bad behaviour has literally arrived on people’s doorsteps.
“And we can’t shy away from the truth anymore.”