A TV programme is coming up on Thursday evening in which I expect I will appear. It is a 90 minute film by Martin Durkin about the huge national debt that has piled up and his solution. He will be arguing against Big Government and he interviewed me about the NHS and about welfare and social housing. Apparently the film also includes interviews with four former Chancellors. I believe he also filmed in Hong Kong.
I wonder if Channel 4 knew what they were in for when they commissioned this film since these kind of arguments - presented at length - are not usually seen on British TV. If the channel knew what it was doing, then all credit to it. Maybe something really is changing in Britain. There was a time when most of the media elite would not contemplate giving airtime to such ideas.
Here is a link to the programme details.
It is a pretty stunning statistic. It is only now, with a secretary of state willing to say these things - even to look at them - that the truth is being allowed out. For many years, ministers and some civil servants, too, perhaps, have been unwilling to look at or even measure the relationship between lone parenting and crime. Now at last some figures are being allowed to emerge.
The figure is from an Iain Duncan Smith speech last week. This is the key extract:
But when government abandons policies that support families, society can pay a heavy price.
* lone parent families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than two-parent families
* children from broken homes are 9 times more likely to become young offenders
* and only 30% of young offenders grew up with both parents.
And overall wellbeing:
* Children in lone-parent and step-families are twice as likely to be in the bottom 20% of child outcomes as children in married families
So this is not some abstract debate.
The full speech is here.
This is a test.
This is a test.
A visitor to the site has implicitly pointed out, quite fairly, that not all killers have come from broken families. Of course I wholly accept this. However there is powerful statistical evidence that children from lone parent families are more likely to be delinquent and to suffer from pretty well every measurable disadvantage - such as a poor academic record - and that is even after making adjustment for other factors. There is also evidence they are more likely to turn to crime. (Fuller details are in The Welfare State We're In, the most extreme and horrifying of which apply to the likelihood of a child being abused or killed in a family with a married, natural father present and those where there is an unmarried lover present).
The commentator mentioned Derrick Bird who killed 12 people. I had not looked into his family background. It may be that he is one of those killers who came from a stable background of two married parents. The family background is a significant factor, I suggest, not a determinant.
However, having briefly googled him, I came across the following even in his case:
Mr Bird [his twin brother], 52, a truck driver who once had his own garage business, was a well-known figure around Lamplugh.
In contrast to his brother, he lived in a substantial farmhouse. It was this disparity in their fortunes that apparently drove Derrick Bird, a taxi driver, to kill him in the early hours of June 2.
Derrick Bird was said to be angry when he learnt that their late father, Joseph, had given £25,000 as a gift to his twin shortly before his death.
Anyone who has been a brother or sister or who has more than one children will know just how powerful sibling rivalry can be. When one's sibling is favoured over oneself, it can sometimes feel like rejection by the parent. I think it is difficult to underestimate the power of the relationship with parents to cause good and bad. After all, one spends a great deal of the first twenty or so of one's life with them and, in many cases, the relationship continues to be very important thereafter. For many people, the parents are the emotional foundation of their lives.
A few days ago I suggested that it could have been the broken family from which he came that led Raol Moat to go off the rails. It is extraordinary, though, that in what appear to be his final words, he himself suggested his parenting background was a vital component.
This is the account in the Sunday Telegraph:
As he lay on the grass, his gun pointed at his neck, witnesses heard him tell police: “I have not got a dad – no one cares about me.”
Feeling alone and sorry for himself, the man who had goaded police during a week-long manhunt had finally lost his bravado.
Cornered by armed officers at the edge of a river and with police spotlights trained on him, Moat appeared a shadow of his public image as a steroid-addicted, violent bodybuilder.
Almost whimpering, the 37-year-old had become increasingly agitated during the six-hour standoff.
Witnesses recall seeing him at times rubbing his face in an obvious sign of distress.
Finally, at 1.15am on Saturday, Moat, who never knew his father and whose mother had disowned him, tucked the shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger in circumstances which are now under investigation.
The tragic story of Raol Moat and his victims poses the question, "if the parenting is important, which parts of it are key?"
Is the fact that a) his father went off without ever knowing him b) that his mother chose to marry another man or c) that his mother, according this recent report 'disowned' him?
Obviously each of these things could have an impact individually and the effect of each could act as a multiplier of the impact of the others. But I suspect, though I cannot bring forward evidence for it, that a boy can do pretty well if he exclusively has to handle the fact that no father has ever been on the scene. If he is brought up and loved by a lone mother, I suspect that the results can easily be satisfactory. Indeed, the story of how the boy seemed happy and fine until his early teenage years, supports the idea. It was then that his mother got married and then that the boy began to be troubled.
I suspect that the arrival of a new man on the scene for his mother is something which often makes the situation much more difficult for the son. He is not likely to accept the authority of a male adult who has simultaneously taken some of the attention of his mother away from him and who is also not his natural father. This may seem like a cruel judgement to make - as though I were saying to mothers in that situation, "it is wrong for you to take another man - you must live alone". I realise that could be hard for many women. But I trying to understand the pyschology of the young son honestly and let the moral consequences fall where they may. A similar situation could arise for a lone father who would like to have a new woman in his life and who daughter could be deeply hurt.
One thing that happens, in some of the lone mother cases, is that the new adult male on the scene can so damage the relationship between the mother and son that the son feels profoundly rejected. That could be what happened in the case of Raol Moat. The effect appears to have been devastating for him.
When a murderer hits the headlines, it is worth looking to see what were his or her childhood experiences were. Very often there was a break-up between the natural mother and father.
So it is with Raol Moat, the alleged killer currently on the run. Today the newspapers have some details of his background. Poignantly the mother says that he was happy as a young child but then he changed. The photograph of him at the wedding of his mother to his stepfather when he was 13 shows him with no smile on his face.
These details are from the Sun:
His mother remembered him as a gentle, asthma-stricken child who gave no indication that he would grow into the menacing man mountain who has "declared war" on all police.
But by the end of his teens, Moat had changed, she said.
He had never known who his real father was and simmering tensions between him and his mother and stepdad erupted into furious rows when he was 19.
Josephine said: "It was horrible. He started having a go at my husband."
Moat finally left home at the age of 24.
Of course it is not possible to prove that he would have he would not have gone wrong if he had grown up with both his natural mother and father. Similarly it is not possible to show that he would have stayed the right side if only his mother had not re-married. But the overall statistics relating family breakd-down to crime are strong. And many times, when I have gleaned from the papers the family background of killers, they turn out to have come from broken families. The killers of Jamie Bulger, for example, were - as detailed in The Welfare State We're In.
The newspapers never highlight this common background of the majority of killers. And couples who break up when there are children involved often tell themselves that the children will be all right. They say to themselves, 'well, the children would have been much worse off if we stayed together arguing like mad'. The keeness and ability of human beings to justify themselves is impressive.
It is as if they were not capable of changing their behaviour. In fact in many cases they could. But they would find it more of an effort and not what they are currently inclined to do. If, indeed, they were unable to divorce or live apart, they would be obliged to find a better way to live together.
There was a time when more people had moral codes and consciences that more often induced them to question the morality of what they were doing. They tried harder.
The truth is that every time a marriage breaks up when there are children, those children are hurt. And many of the times when the parent who looks after the children remarries, the children are hurt again.
Generally, if they are young, the children don't say much at the time. They wouldn't. They are often silent victims. But they are being hurt.
Of course only a tiny minority go on to become murderers. Only a minority become delinquent. But these kinds of outcomes are the extremes - the tips of icebergs. Underneath there are hurt people whose pain does not show so obviously.
The Sun story is http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article3045636.ecehere.
What drives people towards or away from crime?
I have been dipping into Understanding Criminal Behaviour by David Jones which seems to summarise recent research and ideas. He mentions J.C.Coleman writing an article in 1988 using the notion of 'social capital'. Did this Coleman create the concept? Anyway, two others, Sampson and Laub (1993, building on the concept went to suggest that,
Those with loose social bonds - occurring through such things as weak family ties and insecure employment - will find it easier to deviate. Their behaviour will be less governed by those around them, and they will have less to lose if convicted. (page 96)
They then went one to argue,
that positive events in people's lives such as getting married or finding long-term employment can act as a 'turning point', allowing an individual to have access to a different life.
They gave an example of 'Charlie' who was criminal as a child and teenager but, when he was 18, got a job and began going out with a woman who would become his wife. He changed and came to lead a stable, law-abiding life.
Another academic, Warr (1998) went on to use longitudinal data to argue that marriage was a very significant factor in leading criminals to change their lives.
This is work in progress and academic books - or certainly this one - is written in a way that is complex and precise. It is not easy to draw firm, large-scale conclusions. But my early impression is that marriage and employment are both factors which can help turn people away from crime.
I would argue, of course, that the welfare state has - by the incentives and disincentives it has created - reduced the amount of marriage and employment. By these routes (as well as others) it may have also increased the amount of crime.
A society in which people lose the volition and motivation to spontaneously assist and help each other is doomed, even if its economic productivity still suffices to maintain and even expand its flawed structures. Social behaviour evolves from generation to generation in slow, civilisational learning processes. This evolvement might not be able to keep up with the pace of decay. The decisive bottleneck is not in the financing, it is in the human soul.
Robert Nef in The Welfare State destroys welfare and the state published in 2006 by the Liberales Institut in Zurich.
(Based on a talk at the Liberales Institut, Zurich 10/6/10)
The England team was preparing recently for the football World Cup championship and had a ‘friendly’ game. During the game, one of England’s outstanding players, Wayne Rooney, disagreed with the referee and told him so in foul language. The local referee was disgusted. He gave Rooney a yellow card and took the unusual step of revealing that Rooney had said to him ‘f--- you!’
The British press was appalled. But not appalled at the fact that Rooney was criticising and insulting the referee. No, that did not bother them at all. They were concerned, rather, that Rooney’s fits of temper made the England team vulnerable. Several former players and managers voiced their opinion that opposing teams would be well advised to ‘wind him up’ and thus get him to commit a foul or an assault which would cause him to be sent off.
Terry Butcher, a former played quoted in the Sun, suggested
...that the manager of the USA team, which was to play England first in the championship, should tell his backs to insult Rooney and even punch him. Even for British culture, it is unusual for a newspaper to quote someone recommending a totally unprovoked assault. This is what sportsmanship has come to in Britain today. It is shameful and a complete contrast to the values that existed fifty years ago.
The attitudes of Rooney and Butcher contrast starkly with those of players in the past. A former senior referee, Mervyn Griffiths, was the referee at a particularly celebrated cup final in England in 1953. He wrote about football at that time, “Players were better behaved. There was more sportsmanship than gamesmanship in those days… There were not big arguments and demonstrations when I had the whistle. It makes my hair stand on end when I see players today surrounding a referee, hurling abuse and even laying hands on him. Such a thing was unheard of.”
This is just one example – and there are many – of how behaviour has changed in Britain in the past 50 years. The deterioration has been extraordinary.
And here is another recent experience in which I have seen a big contrast in behaviour.
When Poland joined the European Union, the British government, unlike most in the European Union, allowed unlimited entry of workers. Hundreds of thousands came. I met a lot of them. A large number worked in the building trade. In my home I had Polish carpenters, electricians, stoneworkers, general labourers and so on and on. It was an astonishing experience. Why? Because they were so polite. They turned up at 8am exactly. I could sometimes see them waiting outside so that they would not inconvenience me by being early. They worked solidly and well, taking only short breaks before leaving at 4pm. They never demanded tea or coffee. They never played radios. This was a huge contrast to the British and Irish workers I had known in the previous decades. They would often not arrive on the day they had promised and they turned up at any time that suited them. The played their radios and took offence if you asked them to turn the radios off. They would leave at any time, saying they would be back the next day but then they were not.
This huge contrast was striking but I drew no particular conclusions. But then I began to a day, a few years later, when I was rung by a radio station in Poland. The caller said, “Our government is planning to introduce a welfare state. Would you like to comment?”
I had already written my book about the welfare state in Britain but it took me a while to realise the implications of his question. We think of the communist states as the ultimate in left-wing rule. But actually, many of them did not have a welfare states anything like the British one. They therefore avoided some of our welfare state’s effect on behaviour. Poland, though Communist, had not had a welfare state like that of Britain. Could that be why the behaviour of its tradesmen was so superior to that of the British equivalents?
At this point, ideally, I would move on from a couple of anecdotes to give you undeniable proof that welfare states tend to damage behaviour. I would then explain exactly how and why the process happens. Finally I would describe what the policies are that would be accepted in a democratic country and would put everything right. Unfortunately I can’t manage this ideal. In Britain, at least, we are still at the foothills of the mountain in examining and explaining these things. Our academic community has been spectacularly slow and unenterprising in making any study at all. Perhaps that is because academic life in Britain has been nationalised.
All I can do – certainly in the time I have – is suggest the sort of way in which I believe the process works – how moral and decent behaviour can be undermined by welfare states.
I believe that it is in the nature of human beings for their characters to be strongly influenced by the circumstances in which they find themselves. Welfare states change our circumstances. They change the pre-existing state of affairs in which people’s characters develop. I suggest that in the circumstances prior to the welfare state, people were, in general, encouraged or obliged to behave in certain ways we which consider moral, kind or decent. The welfare state changed this.
To see how this works, I ask you to imagine you are living in 1890. You are neither rich nor terribly poor. You are working class. You are one of the majority.
You are in work but naturally you are aware that if you lost your job or became ill, you would not be able to work and get an income. You might become penniless. You, your wife and family might not have enough food. If the worst came to the worst, there would be the workhouse but you would not want to end up there. So what do you do? You, like the vast majority of industrial workers, join one or more of the many Friendly Societies that existed at that time. These Friendly Societies were an extraordinary phenomenon of 19th century Britain. They grew from a small base into the most widespread form of welfare provision prior to the welfare state. Other countries had different arrangements, some of them based on the church.
The British friendly society was a remarkable kind of organisation. You paid your monthly subscription and for this you were insured against unemployment and illness. In many of them you also would get the services of a doctor and/or a hospital if need be.
OK, let’s pretend you get sick. Members of the local branch of your Friendly Society come round to see you. If you are genuinely ill, they will sympathise. They will let you have the money you are entitled to. They may even help your wife in looking after you or looking after your children. These are men whom you see every month at the meetings of the friendly society. But if they see that you are in fact in fine health, looking after your garden or mending your bicycle, they will be outraged. They will not give you the money and your reputation will be shattered. You may even be expelled from the society.
You have a good reputation and it is extremely important to you to keep it.
Your job is also extremely important to you, too. Without it, you are in a very bad way. So again, your reputation is important to you. You need to have a good reference so that if you are not needed in your current work, you will be able to get another job. Gertrude Himmelfarb in one of her books on 19th century thinking and behaviour describes how working class men used to carry a reference in their pockets. They were proud of a good reference and would produce it as needed.
Again, without a generous welfare state, you really wanted to have savings built up in case of need. During the 19th century, saving developed at a fantastic rate. You saved to be rich enough to be able to afford to marry. You saved to help pay for the school fees or contributions which the thousands of private and charitable schools might require.
Since you know, from your own experience, how life can be uncertain, you also give to charity. According to one survey, half of the working and artisan class gave to charity on a regular basis.
I must say, I am beginning to like and admire you.
You are a man who works hard, who tries to ensure he behaves properly to keep his good reputation. You take responsibility for your family. And you give to charity.
Of course there were some awful people, too. But I can certainly provide some evidence that people were much better behaved in the late Victorian times and particularly in the first half of the 20th century.
The welfare state changed all this.
For a start, they destroyed the friendly societies. These were crowded out by compulsory contributions to national unemployment insurance and later by the creation of the national health service.
So what happens to you now – or at least in the recent past - if you lose your job? You might go onto a benefit for the unemployed for a while. But you might be advised by a friend or even the government agency that you would be better off going onto a benefit for incapacity. There has been a vast increase in the numbers claiming they have bad backs or suffer from depression. Whichever benefit you go onto, you will not be monitored carefully. No one in your area may know which benefit you are on even whether you are on a benefit at all. No one will care if you work on the side. The money will not be coming out of their pockets.
Let us say that a little later you become physically well and also able to find work, though the job would be low-paid. You may take the work and conscientiously inform the benefit office. But many do not. Some do not take the work. Some take the work but fail to mention it to the benefits office. This is called ‘working and claiming’.
It is very easy and because of this, you are tempted to take this route. You are tempted, in other words, to be dishonest. You may also, in order to justify to yourself your behaviour, develop a great sense of entitlement. “I deserve this money. I paid my national insurance when I was working. I even pay taxes when I buy things in the shops!” The tendency is to become, instead of like the late 19th century man, someone who takes responsibility for himself, to become instead someone who demands that the state take responsibility for you and yours.
Through this kind of process, the welfare state has created unemployment. Worse that this, it has created permanent mass unemployment. This permanent unemployment on a mass scale never existed prior to the welfare state.
Unemployment, in turn, has its effect on the psychology and behaviour of human beings. It is immensely depressing. Unlike divorce, from which one gradually may recover, the depression and alienation from unemployment tends to get worse, the longer it goes on.
One aspect of this depression – especially for young males – is a sense of alienation. This can lead to anger and willingness to damage things. Perhaps it can also lead to not caring what others think and being rude. There is some evidence it can even lead to crime among the young.
In Britain, there is another way in which the welfare state has damaged behaviour. Special subsidies in money and housing have been offered to those people who have children outside marriage. Not surprising to an economist is the idea that if you give people extra money for something, more people do it. So it is that Britain has become the European capital for children being born outside marriage.
This has damaging effects on the women involved, the men and also the children. Not in every case, of course. There are many individuals who manage very well. But on average, lone mothers tend to be more depressed than those who are married. Government figures show among the other disadvantages the women endure are that that they are more likely to hurt or injured than married mothers.
The men, finding they can get away with it, are more likely to go on being promiscuous and fathering other children whom they will also not look after. The men therefore go without the socialising effect of marriage and of caring for a family.
But the children are the worst affected. There are many figures to show this. Here is just one: the sons of lone parents are 2.7 times more likely to truant from school. That is after adjustment for the socio-economic status of the parents. They are also more likely to become delinquents.
So the intervention of the welfare state in parenting has, in sum, caused underachievement, incivility - including crime -, alienation and irresponsibility.
One further factor has been the mass creation in Britain of what is caused social housing. This used to mean the creation of vast housing estates, many of which still exist though fewer than originally because a remarkable number have had to be destroyed because they became so awful no one wanted to live in them. This social housing may have caused bad social effects in many ways. Initially at least, and perhaps still, they have disrupted families. People may be given accommodation a long way from their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. They lost a close support network which surely was socialising in its effect.
In addition, the large council blocks were ones in which no one owned large parts of the property and so felt no responsibility to maintain it in a good state. Many blocks became places that were frightening at night and even in the day time. The maintenance was poor, leading to broken lifts. They became ideal places for gangs to roam.
To this list you might like to add a few more factors that are more speculative. Now that people feel that healthcare and education are free, the importance of earning a good wage and being careful with your money has automatically been reduced. Similarly, for women, when choosing who will be their mate and keep the finances going when they are bearing children, the importance of finding a mate who appears reliable and hard-working has gone down. It does not matter so much if the man is a ne’er-do-well. The key issue may just be whether she fancies him. So there is less advantage for a man who wishes to attract a female in being a reliable earner.
So what have we got, in summary?
Prior to the welfare state, the circumstances of life created a lot of pressure to be responsible and to work , to have a good reputation and to save.
After the welfare state – or the British one at least – benefits allowed the creation of mass unemployment, which is alienating. It made mass fraud in unemployment very tempting and easy which encouraged dishonesty as a matter of routine. It possibly encouraged crime as well. The benefits in Britain also encouraged lone parenting which caused further alienation for all three parties – the mother, father and child and there is data to support the idea that the children are more likely to become delinquent and then criminal.
Then it created social housing which broke up the social support and civilising effects of family. They also created places where nobody was responsible for shared areas and these became havens for gangs and places of intimidation.
Put all these together and you have a recipe for the de-civilisation of a country. This is what has been happening in Britain, I believe. Other countries have their welfare states, but few have gone as far as Britain – or perhaps have done it so badly. Few have suffered effects as serious as Britain. Other countries should take Britain as a warning and hope they do not create a culture which gives rise to footballing ‘stars’ whose behaviour is like that of Wayne Rooney and whose newspapers quoted former players suggesting that punching an opponent would be a sensible thing to do.
(Some of the material in this entry was taken from The Welfare State We're In.)
Today in the U.S. there are 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. Most of these professionals spend their days helping people cope with everyday life problems, not true mental illness. More than half the patients in therapy don’t even qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis. In addition, there are 400,000 nonclinical social workers and 220,000 substance abuse counselors working outside the official mental health system yet offering clients informal psychological advice nonetheless.
Compare this to the late-1940s, when there were only 2,500 clinical psychologists and 30,000 social workers in the U.S. Marriage and family therapists numbered less than 500 in those days, counselors worked mostly in vocational guidance, and nurse psychotherapists and life coaches didn’t even exist. We’ve experienced a more than 100-fold increase in the number of professional caregivers over the last 60 years, although the general population has only doubled.
This is from an article by Ronald Dworkin in the Policy Review of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. It is a long article but he goes on to make a number of interesting points.
This sort of story does not get into 'quality' newspapers because it is not, of itself, of national importance. It just involves a pensioner dying of a heart attack when chasing yobs away who had repeatedly vandalised his garden and made his life a misery. But it tells us something of the reality of life in Britain today. And if such stories were in the 'quality' papers more, perhaps the elite which runs the media and the country would think about things in a different way.
Incidentally, I don't suppose that any crime has been recorded in this incident. It won't make it to the crime statistics.
Neighbours told how gangs of more than 30 youths aged between 11 and 20 would wreak havoc on the homes of elderly people.
Brian Walker, a close friend and neighbour, said Mr Cooper had been a long-standing target for the teenage yobs.
He said: 'John had a terrible time. They would keep coming back to give him hassle.
'Those living in the bungalows are elderly people, some of them in wheelchairs.
'They have ransacked the woman's garden next door to John, ripping up her plants, breaking furniture.'
He said: 'I was constantly having to keep my eye on John's home and chase gangs away.'
Mr Walker added that he suspected the problems were often caused by youths living in nearby tower blocks.
Fellow pensioner Jean Dutton, who lives just a few doors away, has also suffered torment at the hands of teenagers who have set alight dog dirt on her doorstep and shattered glass bottles against her walls.
The full story is here. It is not a new story. It appeared on 19th May.
Other information alongside the story itself is telling. One is the title of this entry.
Another is: "They had previously poured petrol over his lawn, ruined his immaculate flower bed and set fire to his fence" and another, "Apples and other fruit had been hurled at his house as he sat inside".
Alasdair Palmer has identified a bit of a problem with the crime policy of the new coalition. Basically, none has been agreed as far as we know.
The central problem he [Cameron] faces is that, on crime, the Tories and the Lib Dems have diametrically opposing views. Consult the Tory manifesto and you will find a promise to build more prison places, and thereby avoid a repeat of Labour’s early release of 80,000 criminals to reduce overcrowding. The Conservatives think that prison works – at least to the extent that criminals who are under lock and key cannot commit further offences.
The Lib Dems, however, take precisely the opposite view. They say “the evidence shows” that community sentences are better at reducing reoffending than short prison sentences. So they don’t just want to release more criminals early in order to put them on community sentences – they would rather not send them to prison at all. Their manifesto adds that they would cancel any prison-building programme.
The coalition cannot simply split the difference: the parties’ philosophies are contradictory. But a decision has to be made on prison-building. So one of the parties will have to adopt (or at least permit) a policy which explicitly contradicts its manifesto.
The full article is here.
After Atletico Madrid beat Fulham last night, Diego Forlan, scorer of the winning goal, instead of just revelling in his side's victory in the way we have been used to seeing British players do, is reported to have gone and consoled some of the disappointed Fulham players (see picture).
It makes me intrigued about the man and the nature of his upbringing. He comes from Uruguay.
Re-reading Pride and Prejudice I am struck by how it was considered devastating to the reputation of whole family if one of the girls went off with a man without being married to him.
Lydia (silly and wilful) goes away with Wickham (the bounder of the story. Lydia's father, Mr Bennett, remarks that Wickham would be a fool to accept less that £10,000 - a fortune in those days - to agree to marry Lydia. Collins, a vicar, in what is supposed to be a letter of sympathy, passes on the comment of his patroness that no one would now want a connection with the Bennett family - meaning that no one would want connection by marriage to any member of the family including Lydia's sisters who are utterly blameless.
It does seem very hard and actually hard to understand. Even if one were to acknowledge the idea that sex outside marriage was a sin as far as Christians were concerned, it seems beyond all fairness that the sisters should be implicated. Perhaps it is a reflection of how determined people were to be considered 'respectable'. But why were they so determined? Did respectability have financial advantages which could be lost? Or just social advantages?
A description of how adults now hold back from correcting bad behaviour.
Sometimes people say "for centuries and even thousands of years, people have complained that things are getting worse". The implication is that any assertion that things have got worse in Britain in many ways - though not, of course, in terms of prosperity - is probably wrong and just a symptom of getting older.
The argument is clearly illogical since surely no one argues that things have always got better. So the suggestion that things have got worse must be true for at least some of the time. If you were around as the Roman empire collapsed and anarchy broke out, you would probably have been right saying things had got worse. Similarly when a large part of the population was dying in the Black Death.
On the other side, it is not entirely true that people have constantly said that things are getting worse. In Victorian times there was, in the study of history at least, a view that things were improving over a long period of time. It is called the Whig view of history.
Here is part of the glorious view of how things had got better from Macaulay's History of England from the Accession of James II
I shall relate how the new settlement was, during many troubled years, successfully defended against foreign and domestic enemies; how, under that settlement, the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known; how, from the auspicious union of order and freedom, sprang a prosperity of which the annals of human affairs had furnished no example...
A newspaper this week, though, carried a story which even the most rose-tinted optimist surely would not argue would have been seen at any time beween 1900 and 1960.
Hospitals are paying tens of thousands of pounds for police officers to cover accident and emergency departments on Friday and Saturday nights, it has been disclosed. Officers cover A&E across the UK in a bid to prevent violence towards doctors, nurses and other workers, hospital trusts said.
A total of £60,000 a year pays for four officers to cover A&E at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the Western Infirmary in Glasgow on a Friday and Saturday night.
Trusts in Liverpool and Newcastle also said they paid for police officers at the weekend.
From January to December 2009, Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust spent £28,980 for a police officer at Arrowe Park Hospital from 9pm to 5am on Friday and Saturday nights.
Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust pays £25,000 a year for a police officer for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at Newcastle General Hospital.
The story is, I would suggest, mainly a reflection of the incivility of modern society. Possibly it is also a reflection in part of the slowness of treatment in the hospitals themselves but not necessarily. Either way, it is a symptom of a change - yes, for the worse I am afraid - in our society.
Violent attacks are estimated to be 44 per cent higher than they were in 1998 after research on the way police record them allowed comparisons for the first time.
The study, by the independent House of Commons Library, shows violence against the person increased from 618,417 to 887,942 last year.
The devastating review comes despite repeated claims by the Government that violent crime has come down substantially since it took power.
It is the first time such a trend in police recorded crime can be made because a change was made in counting rules in 2002 which ministers have always insisted meant figures before that date were not, therefore, comparable.
Instead, they have always used a separate the separate British Crime Survey which suggests violence has dropped by more than 40 per cent since 1998.
The Tories, who requested the new research, said the findings make a mockery of such claims and reinforce the public's fear that violence is in fact rising.
The full story is here.
One of the five giants which Beveridge wanted to slay was idleness. What would he say about this particular outcome of benefit dependancy? He would be appalled.
Sometimes it is truly worrying how much is claimed by this government that is repeated, unchallenged, by the BBC and other media. One of the government's repeated claims of late has been that crime is falling. In reality, we don't appear to have the information to know either way - or so it would appear from the fascinating comments of Roger Graef, quoted in the Mail on Sunday. Roger Graef, according to the website of the London School of Economics, is a visiting fellow at the Mannheim Centre for Criminology. He is basically asserting that the official statistics are thoroughly inadequate.
In an interview, Mr Graef, voiced his 'worries' that official crime figures did not reveal the true scale of violence affecting women and children.
He warned that attacks on children by other children not reported to police were absent from the official British Crime Survey (BCS) - other areas of unreported crime are included to get a wider picture of trends.
Mr Graef said: 'We did our own survey of 1,800 schoolchildren aged 14 and 15. One in three had been kicked or hurt. One in four admitted to kicking or hurting somebody else in a month and that's not recorded anywhere.'
He also pointed out the Home Office-compiled BCS did not include unreported assaults at hospitals and prisons.
And Mr Graef highlighted the limitations of official police crime records - based on his own research.
He said: 'We spent two weeks in Oxford and watched how much crime, how much violence, how much harm was happening.'
Out of 12 incidents that ended with the victim attending hospital, only seven were reported to police.
Mr Graef also disclosed how domestic violence goes unreported. 'Women's groups say that 35 assaults are made on the victim before they call the police. That means there's a dark figure of violent crime which we simply cannot know for sure.'
Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said Mr Graef was 'absolutely right' to say the BCS was incomplete, and that 'some crimes will not end up on a police computer'.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1249094/Expert-backs-Conservatives-violent-crime-figures.html#ixzz0f2B2rKTX
This is yet another example of government statistics being unreliable or actually misleading. Please use the search facility on this website citing 'statistics' for more entries on the subject.
Kevin McCloud's experience of staying with a family in an Indian slum made fascinating television when I caught up with it last Saturday night. One of the most interesting aspects of it was that it challenged whether 'slum clearance' and new public housing leads to improvements in the lives of those concerned.
He found much to be appalled by in the slums but also much to admire and even envy.
Plague, cholera and TB abound, but its citizens are among the happiest and most beautiful I’ve seen.
This entirely echoes the discoveries of researchers in Britain when they got close to the removal of so-called slums here and their replacement by planned, architect-designed council housing. Michael Young, who had written the 1945 Labour Party election manifesto, joined by Peter Wilmott studied a slum in great detail and then also a council estate. They found that contact with extended families fell by as much as 75 per cent after the move to the estate.
George Orwell, another Left-winger, when he lived among the poor also found that much was lost when people moved to council estates. What are the most important things? I suspect that two are among them: a strong sense of community and family and a sense of being responsible for one's own actions. The idea of community and the benefit it gives is well known. What is less commented on is the impact of independent action. I struggle even to find a language to write about it.
It is illustrated at its best by the daughter of the family in the overcrowded, rat-infested slum building where McCloud stayed. She emerged looking immaculate each morning in her school uniform. She was evidently bright and one believed she would succeed when she said she aimed to be a lawyer. How did she come to be ambitious and work hard? Because she knew very clearly that if she did not work, she would never emerge from the slum and grim. long hours of manual labour. Compare her with the offspring of a household in Britain where no adult works but the flat or house is paid for by the state and they get income support. The children learn that you can get a tolerable life style without really bothering and if anything is wrong, in the house or the education or healthcare they get, it is all down to someone else. Life it not what they make it. It is what the state makes it. That takes away from them a self-respect and a sense of being able to make a difference to their own lives.
"Slumdog Millionaire" was a superbly made film and one can understand the power of the story of the TV quiz changing everything in the hero's life. But the more important story is of the thousands of girls like the one in Kevin McCloud's film who was going to change her life through a decision in her own mind to work. The state changes the condition of people's minds. That is the way it tends to do the greatest damage.
ps The name that was not mentioned, as far as I know, in the programme was Hernando de Soto who is a leader in this field and who has argued that the key thing for economic growth is to give property rights to slum dwellers.
pps Much more about the damaging effects of council housing - and their possible causes - is in the housing chapter in The Welfare State We're In.
I went to the Jingle Bell Ball at the O2 arena the Sunday before last. Plenty of top pop stars were there including Janet Jackson. But there was an extra act that was not on the programme: John and Edward, known as Jedward. They had been contestants on the X Factor.
When they finished their song, they got applause and screams, like the other acts, but then a growing amount of booing.
I have asked a few people why they were being booed. I am told it is because some people think they should be have been knocked out of the X Factor earlier than they were. They think that John and Edward sing out of tune and that they stayed in the competition while better singers were being knocked out. This may all be true. But as far as I can tell, John and Edward did nothing wrong. They just benefited from votes and/or from the choices of X Factor judges. If they were kept on longer than than some people think they ought to have been, it was not their fault. Booing them was unfair and cruel. It is a kind of yobbish, mob behaviour in which insulting and bullying is considered a kind of fun and not shameful. It is also a relatively new kind of behaviour in Britain. I have not been to many pop concerts but I have not heard of booing at them before.
Sir Alan Steer has claimed that Britain's pupils are better and better behaved, according to the Times Educational Supplement (April 24th). The teachers' trade paper comments that "raised eyebrows and cries of disbelief" greeted Sir Alan's comments. However the paper's commentator, Michael Shaw goes on to support Sir Alan's view.
He says that NUT surveys became more positive about behaviour between 2001 and 2008. He also comments "youth crime also seems to have fallen over the past 15 years, with the proportion of ten to 17-year-olds who are reprimanded, warned or convicted by policy down by 12 per cent since 1992."
He also recommends a book, State Schools Since the 1950s: The Good News, by Adrian Elliott who apparently found that students were four more times likely to truant in the 1950s and he also offers other indications that there was no perfect discipline in a supposed "golden age".
These measurements deserve to be looked at closely. However here is a little anecdotal observation of my own from the other side. Near to me is a well-known comprehensive school in a pretty smart area of London, though many of the students travel in from council homes further out. I often see the children come out of school in the afternoon. At that time I usually see three or four "community police officers" stationed in the street that is nearest. They are clearly there to police the children.
When I have been in the shops nearby, there have sometimes been two or three other officers making sure there is no disruption in that area either. I once saw a shopkeeper angrily shooing off some students who wandered into his shop. I don't think it is too much to guess that he has had trouble with the children before.
Of course, it would not be new for children to shoplift. But when I was young, I went to school near to what was called then a "secondary modern". I often saw students from that school. I never saw a single policeman or any trouble on the streets at all.
Yes, yes. I know this is merely an anecdote and proves nothing. It is just a sliver of evidence. Perhaps more substantial are the figures obtained by David Ruffley, the Conservative police reform minister. He has found that the number of persistent young offenders has increased by 60 per cent over the past decade:
In 2008, there was a total of 15,819 persistent young offenders in England and Wales – up 60 per cent on the 9,868 recorded by police forces in 1997.
The full account is in the Telegraph.
The government minister responded that the figures "are not designed to measure overall trends in youth crime, and will give a misleading picture of the true trend if used for this purpose."
Unfortunately his reasoning for thinking that the figures are misleading has not been reported, or perhaps he gave no reason. In any case, I am afraid I am now sufficiently cynical about government statistics that the only ones I am inclined to trust at all are ones which are not normally cited by anyone and therefore have not been subject to political manipulation. On this basis, these figures obtained by Ruffley may be an excellent indication of the trend. But now attention has been drawn to them, we can expect a remarkable apparent improvement.
Many indicators (quoted in the book) make me confident that children's behaviour has deteriorated in the past 50 years. I strongly suspect that the decline continued in the past decade.
A discussion on the radio this week centred on lunches for children at schools. How healthy are they? How easily can the children leave school and eat at the local chip shop? Then someone said that the teachers often did not not superintend the lunches in school. Or, if they did, they then were entitled to take a long break. It sounds unlikely but I thought a two-hour break was mentioned.
What a contrast there is between this idea and what I have seen at two private schools - one in Britain and one in America. Most notable was the private school in New York State where, I think, all the teachers had lunch with the children and, even better, each teacher went to a separate round dining table so that he or she would talk with the children on that table. It must surely be the case that this is a civilising practice for the children. They are more likely to learn the boundaries of good behaviour and more likely to have sensible and even, occasionally, educational discussions.
When I visited this school last year, I sat on one of these round tables with the headmaster on my left and children on my right. Doubtless it was no accident that the child I was placed next to was extraordinarily bright. He told me his favourite subject was history and he preferred European to American history because it was longer and richer. He must have been about 13 or 14, I think. Of course, the school did not make him as clever as he was but it certainly enabled him to thrive.
The other school, in Britain, was Hampton Court House in South London where the teachers ate with the children. This was entirely informal, I think, and children could avoid being with teachers if they wanted to. But I got the impression that they were perfectly happy having lunch with teachers and, again, this must surely be a civilising influence. Children can learn about history and science in class. But at lunch, any subject can be discussed and the child can have the benefit of the perspective of an educated adult.
The private boarding school that I attended had no teachers present at meals and it was pretty shambolic. I guess that many private schools would benefit from having the teachers present at meals. I would not be surprised if among the government-run schools there is more of a rule that teachers cannot be obliged to go to lunch with students. I would also guess it was pressed for by the teachers' union. I would welcome any information on this.
If that indeed is the case, it would be an example of teacher union power being used to the detriment of the interests of the children.
There have been 20 occasions since 2004 on which gang members have fired guns in the Croxteth and Norris Green areas where Rhys Jones was killed. The gang members start as early as 12. They come from broken, workless homes and start out as couriers or look-outs for the older members. Then they progress up the pecking order, their rising status measured by the viciousness of the crimes they have committed.
Sean Mercer, the youth who killed Rhys Jones, has been stopped by police on an astonishing 80 occasions by the police. He scorned them and their lack of ability to arrest him and other gang members.
It is surely impossible to deny the association between the social breakdown – the unmarried parenting and the worklessness in Norris Green and Croxteth – and the development of these gangs.
In Norris Green, more than half the people are in social housing and the workless rate is 35 per cent – far above the national average. A worrying number of council house and housing association estates have turned into ghettoes of hopelessness, vandalism, crime and fear. A poll by YouGov on behalf of the Centre for Social Justice found that a third of social tenants nationwide feel that where they live is not ‘reasonably safe’. Nearly half won’t say that they trust their neighbours and 40 per cent don’t believe that the local schools provide a good education.
The underclass has grown and become concentrated in many council estates. What are we going to do about it?
Yes, of course we can start by tightening up the weaknesses in the policing, prosecuting and sentencing. These communities have a crisis on their hands and it is offensive that police time is taken up with so much paperwork. It is absurd that the police should have had such knowledge or the wrongdoings of Sean Mercer yet been somehow unable to send him to a corrective institution. The weakness of our justice system – and those who made it so weak – bears a responsibility for the death of Rhys Jones.
So, yes, it would help if Labour finally fulfilled its long-ago promise to be ‘tough on crime’. But we need to go much deeper. One of the major causes of crime is the way many estates have become centres of unemployment and unmarried parenting. There is plenty of evidence that unmarried parenting leads to a greater likelihood of children becoming delinquents. Add that to a concentration of unemployment on a council estate and the result can be extremely toxic.
Council housing has been around for well over a century. Originally it was allocated to the respectable and even prosperous working class. It was a reward and a privilege for people considered worthy of it. It was also for those who had been compulsorily or otherwise moved out of housing areas designated as slums.
But then in 1949, the allocation of council housing began to change. It began to be granted to people on the basis of need rather than worth. In 1977, this way of doing things became compulsory. And so began the downward spiral of Britain’s council estates. Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham described it like this last year: “If you walk in and say ‘I’m homeless’ you get a greater priority than if you walk in and say ‘I’ve managed to do something for myself but I’m still looking for a council property’”. I could add that if you walk in and say, “I’m homeless and I’ve got a baby” then you jump ahead as if you were playing snakes and ladders.
So the system now makes the life-choice of being unmarried and workless easier to fall into. Not actually attractive, but less obviously awful. Worse still, it makes it almost impossible to get out the trap. Once you have council or social housing and are in receipt of housing benefit and council tax benefit you will find it difficult to discover a job which would bring in much more money after you are obliged to give up these benefits.
Housing benefit is the dark secret of the whole benefits system. People often say the Jobseekers’ Allowance and Income Support are tiny. They say no one would be discouraged from working because they get one of these benefits. Perhaps. But once you add on housing benefit and council tax relief and other so-called ‘passport’ benefits, the maths change substantially. The council estates have become quagmires from which few escape. Would you like to guess how many people move out of council estates each year? It is mere four per cent. Once you are in, it is practically for life. A large minority of people are living in these estates, subsidized by everyone else and living low-quality lives.
Reform is desperately needed. But even after 11 years in power, Labour is still in the position where it is only promising a green paper next year. In other words, it has not thought the unthinkable. It has buried its head in the sand.
What should be done? First, one must surely allow those of retirement age to live out their lives in peace in the council homes they have known for years. But after that, we should no longer be content to let this disastrous social experiment continue as it is. Those of working age should be required to seek work if they get subsidised rents or housing benefit. The tenancies should not be for life but for limited periods – an idea that is being taken on in the Netherlands. Tenants should be given every encouragement to become the owners or partial owners of their properties. Unmarried parents should no longer jump up the housing lists compared to those who have worked and planned for their futures.
Such a programme – allied with a more purposeful justice system - could make a dramatic difference. Some may say the government would need a lot of political courage to do such things. But many of us – especially those in council estates – will need a lot of courage to face the future of increased unemployment, crime and fear that will result if we do nothing.
The above is the original draft of an article which appears in today's Daily Express.
Thwe full report on housing by the Centre for Social Justice is here.
If you read little else on this website, I hope you will at least read this extract from an article by Iain Duncan Smith in the Saturday Daily Telegraph. It describes the problem well and with some data which I had not seen before.
Britain is witnessing a growth in an underclass whose lifestyles affect everyone. Perhaps the reason why most people haven't been aware of the extent of this is because housing policy has, over 20 to 30 years, ghettoised many of these dysfunctional families.
In the Seventies, only 11 per cent of households on the estates weren't working; today barely a third of working-age tenants have full-time work. Less than 15 per cent are headed by a couple with children. Two-thirds are occupied by lone parents, lone men or lone women.
On such estates, few children see a positive father figure, with young men having children by different mothers, with the state covering the cost.
Small wonder that alcoholism rates are high and drug dealers ply their trade in full view of young families. This social breakdown leads far too many young boys into street gangs.
Although gangs are criminal and bound together by harsh discipline, the leader acts as an authority figure and the gang's strong ties and loyalties perversely replicate the family they never had. As gangs clash, residents suffer from the violence and high levels of crime.
These young boys are on their way to a life of crime. You don't have to take my word for it - look at the background of those who as young offenders end up in custody.
Over three-quarters of them are from broken homes, just under half of them experienced violence in the home and half of them have educational levels below an 11-year-old.
Girls suffer too. Many have grown up in dysfunctional families where their mothers had children as teenagers and they have shared the house with a string of "guesting fathers". Too many will repeat the lives of their mothers.
Families like this are much more at risk of abuse than any other. Recent NSPCC research has shown that a child growing in such a family structure is up to six times more likely to suffer abuse, which is why the social services are under growing pressure.
The cases of Baby P and Shannon Matthews have led to demands that more children be taken into care, yet in the past ten years 20 per cent more children have been taken into care. Furthermore, the outcomes for those youngsters are appalling.
Nearly half of all the under-21s in the criminal justice system have been in care, only 12 per cent gain five A-C GCSEs and a third of all homeless people have been in care.
When social services do take the child, too often the young mother goes off and has another child, which will more than likely end up in care as well.
The full article is here.
Here is a link to the Centre for Social Justice report on "housing poverty".
One thing that it often said by those who wish to argue that crime has not really increased is that crime used not to be recorded whereas now, by implication, it is.
The latter is certainly not true. There have probably been some serious academic attempts to measure how big the under-reporting of crime has been at various times. However it seems clear that a great deal of crime is now not reported. Here is a little anecdotal evidence taken from an entry from the Times Educational Supplement "opinion staffroom" today:
It's really the stuff that I know goes unreported which annoys me more, as I said at the beginning. I'm sure nobody bothered calling the police about the people who pulled the door off our communal bin room the other week, or those who ripped up a duvet and left the bits scattered all over our communal lawn this week, or those who dumped the contents of a wheelie bin in the middle of the road last week, or left a supermarket trolley and large metal cage at the bottom of the steps last week, or those who continue to smoke in communal areas in our apartment block, or the idiot in the block shouting racial abuse out of the window at some foreigners in the street last night, or those who disturb everyone by shouting as they come home from a drunken night out (pretty much every night). And we did call the police twice in the last few weeks at 3am because we heard violent attacks on our neighbours. That's just in the last couple of weeks. Every morning on my walk to the bus stop I see some evidence of the behaviour of the night before.
Most are things which would be considered minor crimes (vandalism, antisocial behaviour, smoking in a public place, racial abuse, stealing property etc etc) but the police are hardly going to take you seriously if you ring up about a shredded duvet on your lawn. It's just annoying, mindless behaviour.
Oh, and we live in a "nice", residential cul de sac of reasonably expensive, new apartments.
The site can be accessed here.
It might be worth repeating a quotation I cited in The Welfare State We're In from Professor Jose Harris:
A very high proportion of Edwardian convicts were in prison for offences that would have been much more lightly treated or wholly disregarded by law enforcers in the late twentieth century. In 1912-13, for example, one quarter of males aged 16 to 21 who were imprisoned in the metropolitan area of London were serving seven-day sentences for offences which included drunkenness, 'playing games in the street', riding a bicylcle without lights, gaming, obscene language and sleeping rough. If late twentieth century standards of policing and sentencing had been applied in Edwardian Britain, the prisons would have been virtually empty: conversely, if Edwardian standards were applied in the 1990s then most of the youth of Britain would be in gaol.
This is from a footnote in the book Private Lives, Public Spirit: A Social History of Britain 1870-1914.
In my own book, I cite much other evidence to suggest that crime has become a great deal worse than in previous decades. The rise in recorded crime, let alone unrecorded crime, is astonishing. Between 1898 and 1998/99, recorded violent crime multiplied seventy-seven times. The numbers went from 4,221 to 331,843. The graph (printed in the book) shows that rise was continuous and remorseless. To believe that this was all due to changed standards of reporting, you would also have to believe that there was a continuous, unbroken change, year by year, in the standards of reporting. It is not credible. Nor, I believe, is there evidence for any such thing.
This is the beginning of a solid article by Stephen Pollard about the unreliability of crime statistics. It has some good points but I feel that there is likely to some other factor that has not yet been identified which leads to crime figures that appear so unlikely.
It was claimed that the figures published yesterday showed that there were five million recorded crimes in England and Wales - a fall of 9 per cent in the 12 months to March.
The phrase 'lies, damned lies and statistics' is never more apposite than when dealing with crime figures. Indeed, there were two sets of 'official' figures: first, the number of crimes recorded by the police and, second, crimes counted by the British Crime Survey. The police figures say there were five million crimes last year while the British Crime Survey figures say there were 10.1 million.
And if you think that's confusing, it gets worse: both sets of figures are wrong.
The figures for crime recorded by the police are very misleading because they only take into account, as is clear from their name, those crimes which are actually reported to the police.
On the other hand, the British Crime Survey is based on 47,000 people who are asked about their experience of crime. So, in theory, it's a better guide to the true level of crime than the police's figures. But it, too, is still deeply flawed.
For one thing, the British Crime Survey is hamstrung because its researchers only interview people who are prepared to discuss the problem - and they are hard to find in high-crime, inner-city areas.
Worse, the survey doesn't count repeat violent crimes against a victim. So, if someone is repeatedly mugged, not only might the crimes never be recorded because the victim was never included in the survey, but even if he was, the number of crimes would be counted as one.
Thus one university criminologist has calculated that the total number of violent crimes committed against adults is likely to be 80 per cent higher than the figure recorded by the British Crime Survey.
I am not sure about the British Crime Survey not reporting crimes committed against those under 16 (which Stephen makes further on). I think I remember reading recently that that policy has been changed but I am not sure.
The full article is here.
My suspicion that government crime statistics could be misleading (see previous entry) is supported by a study published by Civitas in June last year.
It appears that the British Crime Survey has a very particular way of counting crimes. The real incidence of all violent crime appears to be 83 per cent higher than that which given in the British Crime Survey. This understating of crime has been going on since the survey started in 1981. Since the total level of crime in each year since then has been understated but to an unknown but presumably varying degree each year, the assertion that violent crime is going down is not wholly reliable. I suspect there are further reasons to doubt the trustworthiness of the crime figures. A few have already been suggested in comments on my previous post (below).
I should add that the academics who wrote this report went out of their way not to criticise the statisticians themselves. The fault they find is with a way of treating the figures that was started in 1981.
Here is part of the Civitas press release:
...ever since its inception in 1981, the British Crime Survey (BCS) has omitted many crimes committed against people who have been repeat victims. If people are victimised in the same way by the same perpetrators more than five times in a year, the number of crimes is put down as five. The justification for this was ‘to avoid extreme cases distorting the rates’, but, as Farrell and Pease point out, ‘if the people who say they suffered ten incidents really did, it is capping the series at five that distorts the rate’.
By recalculating the figures without the arbitrary cap of five crimes, Farrell and Pease have revealed that there are over three million crimes omitted from the BCS:
In its most recent published sweep, BCS estimated an annual total of some 6.8 million ‘household’ crimes (covering burglary; theft in a dwelling; other household theft; thefts of and from vehicles; bicycle theft; and vandalism to household property and vehicles). It estimated some 4.1 million ‘personal’ crimes (which covers assault, sexual offences, robbery, theft from the person, and other personal theft). Our re-analysis reveals that, if we believe what the respondents tell us, there would be 7.8 million household offences and 6.3 million personal crimes. Thus, removing the arbitrary five offence limit, over three million extra offences come to light… Household crime is increased by 15% and personal crime by a staggering 52%. As the sum of personal and household crimes, total crime would have been understated by 29%.
The increase in the number of crimes is not evenly spread across all types of crime. For example, theft of vehicles is not increased at all, but levels of vandalism are almost a quarter more than reported, and there are 20 per cent more burglaries. Violent crime of all types increases by 83 per cent. Violence perpetrated by an acquaintance increases by 156 per cent and domestic violence by 140 per cent. As Farrell and Pease say, ‘these are not minor differences’.
The full press release is here.
Last week I suggested at a meeting that the figures for unemployment in Britain had been manipulated. A member of the audience who said he was a civil servant was appalled and angry, suggesting that I was impugning the integrity of civil servants. I was somewhat taken aback by his outrage since I have become very accustomed, in the past ten years, to the thought that many government statistics are highly misleading. There are so many examples of it.
Hospital waiting lists are a prime example. Much unemployment is hidden under the category of incapacity benefit. Education is an outstanding example. My confidence in all government statistics has been completely undermined.
When I was a once-a-week leader writer for the Daily Telegraph (about five years ago) I would often start my research with some headline government statistics that appeared to support the official line and then find, on looking more deeply at the figures, that the headline figures were extremely misleading and, in some cases, that the real story was the very opposite of what the government was suggesting. Exam results are a well-known - or rather 'notorious' - example of this but there are many others that are less well-known and which succeed in fooling people (or at least the media).
As I explained to the irate civil servant, I am not suggesting that that figures are simply changed by the statisticians - that numbers are moved around Mugabe-style. No, I am suggesting something more subtle. I am also not suggesting that the statisticians are driving the misleading of the public. That is a political matter and therefore surely driven by the politicians and their 'special advisers' and public relations advisers - although let us not pretend that statisticians are all without political views and that all of them can put those views away when they select which, of the many ways of measuring things, they choose.
It is quite easy to manipulate statistics. One can choose the numbers that put the best gloss on things, ignoring ones which tell a different story. One can quote one study which ignoring others. One can redefine what counts and does not count as an instance, say, of an exam pass (just change the pass mark from 50% to 10% and you get a surge of apparent academic success.
One of the statistics I am currently suspicious of is the supposed fall in violent crime. I have not had time to mine the statistics. But I noticed this weekend a story in the Sunday Telegraph which encouraged my suspicion. A professor of 'advanced social sciences' surveyed frontline police officers, contacting them by email. No such study can be regarded as conclusive. However she apparently contacted 1200 of these officers which is quite a big sample.
...found that 80 per cent of borough police officers agreed or strongly agreed that knife crime was worse in their community than five years ago. Only eight per cent disagreed.
Some 70 per cent judged that gun crime had worsened and nearly three quarters said they had seen a rise in gang crime.
Professor Qvortrup herself remarked that the result of her survey 'flies in the face of other research from the Home Office and the British Crime Survey, which says that gun crime is falling'.
I wonder. Is gun crime really falling? If so, why?
The full story is here.
I wonder if this is true? A person who commented on the Daily Mail website on the story below, wrote:
In The Netherlands a single mother with a child is not entitled to claim benefits or social housing until aged 22. This makes young women more likely to be careful about teenage pregnancy and get on with their education and lives instead of stuck in a hole of state dependency.
- Adam, UK
If this is indeed true, it casts a different light on the debate on teenage pregnancy in the UK. Usually the argument is all about sex education and I think, if memory serves, it is suggested that the Netherlands has a particularly open form of sex education which, it is suggested, does no harm because the teenage pregnancy rate is lower that Britain's. But if this commenter on the Daily Mail website is correct, it would seem quite possible that in fact any lower teenage pregnancy rate could be due to the benefits system rather than the nature of sex education. It might be that the benefits system is the most influential kind of sex education around.
It is understandable that when older people suggest that behaviour has changed, that younger people are sceptical. Perhaps there is an element of 'them' and 'us'. A younger person might feel, "this is our time. If you say now is worse than before, you are saying that we, the young, are worse than you, the old." And nobody likes to hear criticism.
Yet the truth is, even if it is hard to accept, that British society has dramatically changed for the worse in the past half century. Of course we are richer and wealth brings a kind of freedom. But our behaviour - including the behaviour of many older people - has significantly changed.
Some evidence for this is in the book. But here is another little piece: funeral directors who have been in the business for years say that the respect shown to funerals has noticeably declined. Here is the coverage from the Daily Mail:
Drivers and youths are showing no respect for the dead or their grieving families, according to Britain's undertakers.
The past decade has seen public attitude towards funerals reach an "all-time low", they claim.
Similarly, firefighters are facing a torrent of abuse and mindless attacks from yobs as they attempt to save lives.
In a "sad reflection of today's society" motorists refuse to stop for funeral processions and regularly cut up hearses.
Horses pulling funeral carriages have even had stones thrown at them by schoolchildren.
Undertakers have revealed that members of the public now rarely stop when the cortege passes and policeman no longer salute.
The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors says members are reporting more such incidents, with the situation worse in big cities.
John Weir from the society, whose members organise 60 per cent of funerals in Britain, said: "Respect for the dead is at an alltime low.
"People used to stop as a funeral went past, those wearing hats would take them off, policemen would salute and traffic would give way.
"That doesn't happen any more and in the past ten years there has been a decline in behaviour.
"Funeral directors have noticed this change and, of course, it is the families who are affected.
"A funeral only happens once. If something happens, the relatives are scarred for ever. It is a sad reflection of today's society.
"Things are worse in the cities; in market towns and in the country it is not as bad."
John Harris, of T Cribb and Sons funeral directors in London's East End, organises 800 horsedrawn funerals each year. He believes carrying out a funeral has become more difficult because of the attitude of other road-users and a lack of respect from today's youngsters.
"In the past ten years respect for the dead has declined," he said. "And it is part of a wider breakdown of society.
"Road users are the biggest problem. Drivers will overtake and then cut in, which can spook the horses. And we have had an incident of schoolchildren throwing things at the horses.
"When I started 35 years ago, things like this would never have happened."
The full article is here.
I appeared on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning. I was up against Oliver James who has a new book arguing that Thatcherite "selfish capitalism" has made British people unhappy. Unsurprisingly I didn't agree. But actually, though I think his economic premises in his new book are utterly wrong, I do have respect for Oliver James as a psychologist. I quoted him in The Welfare State We're In and met him while researching the book. He kindly directed me towards research indicating that British people are less happy than in previous generations - something on which we agree.
Over the next week, it might be possible to listen to the interview on the BBC website. The link is here. The conversation was at 8.48 on Wednesday 2nd January.
He has some good lines. I liked the one: "You can't pull with a Ferrari in Copenhagen". This is a claim which should be tested.
While it is increasingly accepted that behaviour in Britain has deteriorated, people still believe that the army remains as it was: full of brave men of exceptional discipline and character. This may be so. One hopes so. However, given the decline elsewhere, I am not surprised to get the following report. I should emphasise that this is second-hand and I do not offer it as strong evidence. I mention only as a possible lead indicating what might be happening. It comes from someone who knows a man who...
...travels round the world with the military. As a result he has acquired a great deal of insight into the changes in military culture over recent years. Apparently, soldiers now dress in a slovenly way and officers can no longer collar them in passing if their dress or behaviour is sub-standard. Due process has to be followed and this has evidently meant that officers don't bother, with obvious results. This is possibly a result of worthy anti-bullying policies but, again, has had unfortunate results.
My correspondent puts down the reduction in discipline to altered rules on how an officer may and may not tell off a soldier. Doubtless that has played an important role. But I would suspect that the change in the character of British people generally has also affected the behaviour of armed personnel.
I should add that I have no wish to knock the armed forces, for whom I have great admiration. On the other hand, I believe it would be wrong to turn a blind eye if a change such as this is taking place.
Recently I took part in a debate at the Royal Society for Arts about what are the greatest social evils of our time. I was welcomed by Matthew Taylor as I went in and he called me a 'token right-winger' which gives an idea of the views of most of the other participants. The main speech was by Julia Unwin. There was, perhaps surprisingly, some agreement about the worst social evils such as cultural impoverishment. However, even here I am sure we had wholly different views about the causes of that impoverishment.
The RSA website has an audio recording of the debate. The actual recording is here: http://www.thersa.org/audio/lecture190707.mp3
My main contribution starts just after a third of the way through. I also commented on the notion that the market economy has increased avarice in modern society at the beginning of the last eighth of the recording.
In my comments I mistakenly referred to a market in Rome having been created by Tiberius. I think the one I was thinking of was actually created by Trajan. I should also have mentioned that in late Victorian times, when charitable giving was vastly higher than it is now and behaviour was better, there was lower tax and Britain had much more of a market economy.
The page leading to the recording is here: http://www.rsa.org.uk/index.asp
Incidentally, the idea of the Julia Unwin that climate change should be regarded as a major social evil seemed to me quite extraodinary. It may or may not be an evil, but it is surely not a social evil. I am dismayed by the way that she - and perhaps the Royal Society of Arts, too - have turned old charities to address their own interests instead of the views and intentions of those who founded them.
When I say that crime per capita has increased 47 times over in the past century, people often reply that reporting of crime has increased. This idea is widespread. I am afraid I have yet to see it cogently argued, with evidence. I would be glad to see the argument put properly. (Norman Dennis once wrote a pamphlet saying that the idea was wholly untrue.)
In the meantime, there is some evidence suggesting the very opposite. The latest such evidence of this comes from the Federation of Small Businesses:
Small businesses have so little faith in the legal system that they no longer bother reporting crimes that cost them £19billion a year.(Full article in Daily Mail)
They think thieves and vandals are let off far too lightly, according to a survey published yesterday.
Four out of ten fail to report crimes because they do not believe police take them seriously enough, says the Federation of Small Businesses.
The findings reflect growing anger at shoplifters being let off with onthespot fines, half of which go unpaid.
Under the latest Government proposals they will escape punishment altogether if they agree to say sorry.
This suggests that there is serious under-reporting of crime that is happening right now. It seems to me highly unlikely that small businesses did not report so many crimes in, say, the 1950s. But it would be interesting to see any evidence on the issue.
I have just been to a talk given by Charles Murray, the American intellectual who has been so influential in the matter of state welfare and the damage it has done. He spoke about his idea for reform - an idea described fully in his book In Our Hands.
His idea, briefly, is this: that the government should give every person US$10,000 a year in place of all welfare benefits, retirement payments and healthcare. Of this, US$3,000 would have to be used to buy health insurance.
I hope he will forgive me if I misreport some of his remarks. I do not have shorthand.
He said he was not primarily concerned that the welfare state costs too much "though it does", nor that it tends to make things worse "though it does" but that it "drains" the life out of people - particularly the spiritual life and sense of meaning.
He believed that people derive a sense of meaning in their lives in one or more of the following four ways: vocation, community, family and faith. For these things to retain their meaning, it was vital that government should leave them alone.
He offered his sense of how Europeans defined the purpose of life these days. He felt they think that the idea is to have a pleasant time until you die. He felt that they no longer believe that life has a special or transcendental meaning. Their priorities seem to be holidays and shorter working hours. The idea that work can have meaning in their lives has faded. Their belief in marriage, too, has dwindled. They even are no longer so ready to put their children's interests above their own. There has been a secularisation of society. People now think they are a combination of chemicals which, after a while, would "de-activate".
This may be a caricature of how Europeans think but it is not so very far from how a lot of Britons think. His view is influenced, I think by the fact that he is a believer - and believers in God are probably more widespread and fervent in America than in Britain. It is his religion that perhaps makes him more shocked by some of the behaviour in Britain than non-religious people are.
In fact, I would suggest that America's continuing belief in God helped to get through the welfare reform of 1997. Many simply thought that it was wrong, for instance, that there should be special government payments for those having children outside marriage. It was against God's law. (American religion is, perhaps, different from what remains of British religion in that, here in Britain, the church has given up on morality and tends to take a socialist approach, calling for more big government).
He said that if his plan were introduced, behaviour would be affected. There would be 'feedback loops'. I think he implied that a girl would be less inclined to get pregnant out of wedlock if she knew she would get no extra money from the government. She would also be able to get money from the father because his regular money from the government would be paid to a known bank account and money could be taken from it. This would, Murray suggested, affect his behaviour, too. He would be more cautious about making women pregnant.
The idea of 'feedback loops', such as described above, is crucial to understanding how the welfare state has undermined behaviour. The welfare state has, in many ways, taken away the feedbacks which a society without state welfare used to supply.
Among these, Murray emphasised, is stigma. He said "stigma is wonderful" and "it is extremely powerful" and he suggested it was rarely a bad thing except in novels.
My take on Charles Murray's proposal is this:
I am struck first of all by how he admitted that this was a compromise. He said he was making an offer to the Left. They would be allowed to keep big spending - since his plan would continue big state spending. But it would be in a different form that would curtail many of the bad effects of state welfare.
Many times I have been asked, when giving talks about my book, "so what is the answer?" I have always felt it is impossible to give a satisfactory answer. The ideal solution - minimal state welfare - would probably not be politically acceptable in a democracy. But reforms that would be politically acceptable would probably not be radical enough to make a 'good society'.
What Murray has done is come up with an admitted compromise. But I wonder whether even this compromise would hold. I can imagine some hard luck stories that would be played out at length on TV and radio and would cry out for action by the government. Gradually, the whole thing might fall apart. I fear that in a democracy there is a tendency for people to look to government to sort out every problem. I fear that even in America, the will to say: "let the chips fall where they may - the net good to society will still overwhelmingly come from a low welfare state society" is not likely to be strong enough in the face of such stories.
I have come to fear that all advanced societies are becoming more and more welfare state dependent and that people in these countries are gradually being changed more and more by these welfare states. The welfare state gives you money if you have children out of wedlock, it gives you money if you don't work, if gives you money if you are well but you pretend to be ill and it declines money it would have given you if you have saved. I agree with Charles Murray that the worst effect of the welfare state is on the character of the people it affects (mostly the less well off). I would love to see major reform but I fear that over the long term, reform will not last and that the damage done to society will continue.
If this happens around the advanced world, we are really talking about a whole civilisation in decline. Is this too gloomy? I hope so.
One’s first reaction to the horrific killings of 32 people on Monday on Virginia Tech campus is: “why on earth don’t the Americans bring in gun control?” It seems the obvious answer.
If you have been listening to the BBC coverage you will probably have been subtly encouraged to view it this way. The attitude on some of its programmes seems to be: the Americans are bone-headed about this. They should be like us civilised Brits and ban gun ownership. But the facts about guns are not what you might expect.
Yes, it is true that guns are widely owned by American people. They can be found in two out of every five homes. It is also true that the homicide rate in America is tragically high at 5.9 deaths per 100,000 people each year.
But guns are also widely held in peaceful Switzerland. They are in 27 per cent of homes. Yet the rate of homicides in Switzerland is only 1.1 per 100,000 people which is lower than in Britain. So the idea that there is a simple connection between guns being out there and people getting killed is not reliable.
In Norway gun ownership also quite common with a third of homes having one. And what is the rate of homicide there? Fewer than one per 100,000, far lower than in Britain. The rate in England and Wales is 1.5 and and in Scotland it is 2.2.
People will think that Swizerland and Norway are different sorts of countries with different cultures. But that is the whole point. The culture of a country – the way people live and think – vitally affects the extent at which people kill each other. The question of whether or not people are allowed to own guns is far less significant.
This can be shown by another little-known fact: Americans kill each other at such a high rate that even if you excluded the deaths caused there by the use of guns, their homicide rate would still higher than ours. In other words, even if there were not a single gun in America, there would still be more murders and manslaughters than in Britain. Bringing in gun control in America would not stop it being a country where a lot of people get killed.
The cause of the high number of homicides in America is a matter for conjecture. Perhaps it is because only a century and a half has passed since the American west was still pretty wild. Perhaps it is an echo of the organised crime that became so common during the dark days of alcohol prohibition. Perhaps it is a reflection of a more urgent demand among Americans that they should be treated with respect – something not completely unlike the spirit in Britain some centuries ago that made aristocrats fight duels rather than accept a slur on their honour. It is hard to say.
You might reply, “however that may be, tough gun control should stop rampage killings such as this appalling one in Virginia”. Well yes, it might stop some of them. But actually the deaths caused by such killings are a tiny minority of all homicides in the USA. The New York Times did a survey of 100 ‘rampage killings’ over 50 years and found that they account for only one per cent of all homicides.
Meanwhile, there are some genuine arguments in favour of letting people own guns. It is certainly arguable that widespread gun ownership deters criminals from using guns. A criminal is less likely to rob a bank at gunpoint if he knows that he might himself get shot in the process. The state of New Jersey adopted particularly strict gun control laws in 1966 and two years later the murder rate was up by a half and reported robberies had nearly doubled. In 1976, Washington D.C. introduced some of the most severe restrictions on gun control in America. Since then, the murder rate, according to National Center for Policy Analysis, has risen by 134 per cent while that of the USA as a whole has dropped 2 per cent. In these cases – extraordinary as it may seem – tougher gun controls appear to have led to more deaths and more violence.
A fifth of all homicides in America take place in just four cities: New York, Chicago, Detroit and Washington D.C. All of these have strong controls on gun ownership.
And what about here in Britain? We have extremely strict laws on gun ownership, yet deaths from guns have risen. Gun laws provide very fallible protection and, to some extent at least, they take guns out of the hands of good, law-abiding people while still not preventing criminals and delinquents getting holding of them.
Gun ownership appears to deter violent crimes such as robberies. America has had remarkable success is reducing violent crime in recent times. There was a 16 per cent fall in the five years to 2,000. Meanwhile, here in Britain, violent crimes are on a major long term rising trend.
Yes, of course there are many other factors to consider. There are what Tony Blair used to call “the causes of crime”. Indeed these are surely far more important than whether or not guns are legally permitted. A long-established culture of violence can affect the homicide rate. It makes a difference if lots of children are brought up in workless households and go to sink schools not far from bad council estates and then get into gangs.
It is hard – even with the most scrupulous use of statistics – to disentangle causes, effects and co-incidences when it comes to guns, killings and violent crime. But banning guns is not a cure-all. Yes, guns can kill. But it takes a person to pull the trigger.
(The above is the unedited version of an article which may be published in the Daily Express tomorrow.)
Philip Zimbardo was on the Radio 4 programme "Start the Week" this morning. He briefly described a famous experiment which he conducted in 1971.
Here is a description of it from Wikepedia:
The Stanford prison experiment was a psychological study of the human response to captivity, in particular to the real world circumstances of prison life and the effects of imposed social roles on behavior. It was conducted in 1971 by a team of researchers led by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Undergraduate volunteers played the roles of guards and prisoners living in a mock prison that was constructed in the basement of the Stanford psychology building.
Prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their assigned roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to genuinely dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of guards were judged to have exhibited "genuine" sadistic tendencies, while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized and two had to be removed from the experiment early.
The full Wikipedia entry is here.
I see a parallel between the Stanford experiment and the welfare state. The Standfor experiment showed that good people could, if their circumstances were changed, start acting very badly indeed. We humans are generally not so inherently virtuous that we can go on acting well regardless.
This chimes with one of the central claims that I make in The Welfare State We're In, that living within the structure of the welfare state has changed the character of the British people.
I do not think that the majority of young men who become criminal thugs were born to be that way. I suggest that the circumstances they found themselves in made it more likely to that they would turn out that way. The welfare state conditioned these circumstances. The welfare state caused more young men to be brought up in adverse circumstances. It caused:
- more to be brought up by an unmarried mother, perhaps with visiting boyfriends
- more to be brought up on a sink council estate
- more to be illiterate and alienated at school and therefore more likely to be in gangs and turn to delinquent behaviour
- more to be unemployed.
One could add a few more such circumstances. Add them together and you have a large-scale experiment in what those kind of circumstances do to people. We know that, in many cases, criminal activity has been the result.
The circumstances in which people - particularly the poorest fifth - are brought up in Britain has been changed by the welfare state. It has had a damaging effect on their behaviour. But they could just as easily have been fine, decent people. It was nothing about them genetically. It was the circumstances into which the welfare state put them - just as it was the circumstances into which students were put in Stanford which made them behave so awfully.
Alongside this story in the Telegraph was a box of "Family Facts and Figures". One of them was:
70 per cent of young criminals have lone parents
22 per cent of children live with a lone mother.
This would appear to be further evidence that lone parenting makes it more likely that children will become delinquent. It does, of course, have to treated with care since it is possible that children of lone parents are more likely to suffer from some other problem that causes them to be more likely to be criminal. In other words, it is conceivable that the evidence is misleading. On the other hand, there is plenty of well-researched analysis that leads one to believe that this bare statistic powerfully reflects an important truth.
I am very interested in the origin of this 70 per cent figure. Previously the British government, unlike the American, has been reluctant to make any analysis of the family background of convicted criminals. It has been as if it did not want to know. So where does this figure come from? Is it in the Freud report?
Most of the nonsense which Mr Blair spoke in order to get himself elected has been forgotten. He has not been held to account. But occasionally the propaganda which served him so well is remembered. The absurd lies are finally exposed. This week it has been his crime policy.
One of Mr Blair's most famous pieces of propaganda was the promise that, if elected, he would be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".
But this week the British public has been made very well aware that the government over which he presides did not build anything like enough prisons to house the steadily increasing number of criminals. In other words, he simply was not "tough on crime". That was a lie.
In addition, the failure of his government to build sufficient prisons has made crime worse than it would otherwise have been. This, rather unusually, has now been pointed out by a judge:
Judge Richard Bray jailed two men over a fight outside a pub, and told Northampton Crown Court: "I am well aware that there is overcrowding in the prisons and detention centres. That is not going to prevent me from passing proper sentences in each case.
"The reason our prisons are full to overcrowding, and have been for years, is because judges can no longer pass deterrent sentences."
He added: "What message does it send to criminals when they are told in the dock they will only have to serve half the sentence the judge thinks appropriate?
"Until politicians wake up to this fact, criminals will continue to re-offend and the prison population will continue to rise ever higher."
Of course, while Mr Blair 'presided' over the failure to build prisons, the person who should probably take the main responsibility is Gordon Brown. He was acting prime minister for domestic policy. His men at the Treasury will have been the ones telling any Home Secretary who wanted to build prisons, 'sorry, money is too tight'. So the great extent of the rise in crime is yet another failure of this government that probably can be put down to the actions of Gordon Brown.
In the 'comments' section of the posting below on re-offending, John Hudson has cast doubt on my assertion that the welfare state has been a major factor in the massive rise in crime in Britain. His argument is worth a hearing and I have responded to it.
It should not be difficult to spot the flaw in the argument for making all children stay at school until they are 18. It is contained within the first two, short paragraphs of the news story in the Daily Telegraph:
Teenagers should be forced by law to stay in school or training up to the age of 18, the review of skills ordered by Gordon Brown said yesterday.
More than one in six young people leave school unable to read, write and add up properly and the proportion of 16- year-olds staying on in full time education in the UK is below the average for developed countries, it said.
To put the same information in a different way, this advisory body suggests that children whom Britain's state schools have failed to teach even to read and write should be compelled to stay at those schools for an extra two years.
This is absurd. You might call it 're-inforcing failure'. This is an idea according to which, if you have a system for climbing a mountain which does not work, then you should be made to go on using it.
The damaging consequences of increasing the school-leaving age are serious. We already know - in a big and undeniable way - that many of those children whom state schools have failed even to teach how to read and write, are disenchanted by school. It would be surprising if anything else were the case.
We also know that such children - especially the boys - are the ones who are likely to establish gangs within the school, to disrupt lessons, to bully, to truant and to commit crimes. This is already a major problem. An astonishingly high proportion of street crime is already committed by children of school age in school hours.
What would be the effect of keeping even bigger boys at school who are disenchanted by the experience and who have not even learned to read and write and who have already formed gangs and become juvenile delinquents? It would undoubtedly be to breed bigger and more dangerous young men present in school. It is not an exageration to say that the crime rate in Britain would increase. More teachers would be too frightened to even attempt to exercise authority. More knives and drugs would be brought into school. More lessons would be disrupted. At present, those who stay on are the keener ones. They have a better chance to make progress in those two years because the disenchanted ones have left. That chance would be seriously endangered by this proposal.
Raising the school-leaving age is a seriously bad idea.
One of the contentions of The Welfare State We're In is that the welfare state has been a major contributor to the massive rise in crime and anti-social behaviour since the beginning of the 20th century. The problem is compounded by the fact that the state, in addition to being a bad supplier of welfare, tends to be a bad administrator of everything else it does, too. This applies to all aspects of criminal justice including investigation of crimes, prosecution, the courts and punishment.
The poor performance of the state in these areas exacerbates the increased crime for which the welfare state is largely responsible.
At the end of last month, Lord Ramsbotham, the former prisons chief, wrote a scathing attack on the administration of prisons in The Independent. It was significant because it came from such a well-placed soure.
This is part of what he wrote:
Yesterday's announcement that the prison population now exceeds 80,000 is the latest low point in what one can only describe as the Government's headlong and self-induced race to absurdity as far as the conduct of imprisonment is concerned.
He cites various reasons for this. The one that is particularly worrying is this:
If you do not resource prisons, to enable them to conduct work, education and training, prisoners are more likely to reoffend, as proved by the fact that the reoffending rate among adult males has gone up from 55 per cent to 67 per cent in the past five years.
That rise in re-offending seems remarkable and suggests, all by itself, that something may be going badly wrong in our prisons.
What could it be?
He offers various explanations but I am particularly struck by his mention of this:
The probation services are overstretched - there are 300 fewer officers and 1,500 more bureaucrats than five years ago.
It seems there is no part of the administration of the state which has not become more and more dominated by bureaucracy and administration rather than people actually doing the job. I apologise for repeating in many ways that the state has an inbuilt tendency to become inefficient but the point is vital and so little understood and accepted.
The full article is here.
Roy Keane, of all people, has criticised the bad behaviour of football players . This is comical, considering his own record of foul language, insults, intimidation and deliberate violence - in one case leading to serious injury. The thing that really seems to irritate him now is players faking injury. It is an example of how selective and illogical people can be when it comes to a moral code.
Despite all the above, I welcome Keane's words (see the Telegraph article and below). When I wrote The Welfare State We're In, I was delighted to find a long history of sendings off in professional football. I thought that I had discovered a good way of demonstrating the dramatic deterioration of behaviour in Britain - a way that went beyond anecdotes, a way that was quantified.
Many people watch football and they would easily relate to the figures I was able to quote. It seemed like a great way to make my point. But this was to ignore the passionate longing of many football fans - including highly intelligent people - to believe that it is all the fault of the referees. Many fans refuse to accept that behaviour has changed. They say the enormous rise in sendings off is only and entirely because referees have become stricter. They claim that one footballer barely has to touch another for the ref' to give a yellow card. You can be sent off for things which would never have resulted in such a tough response in the good old days.
I can only gasp at the way these fans ignore the violence, the shirt-pulling, the pushing, the holding, the tripping, the kicking and the punching, not to mention the diving, that are now part and parcel of football. I would suggest that the new, stricter rules are not the cause of the sendings off but have been put in place because it was the only way to reduce the level of mayhem on the pitch. Indeed this was explicitly the case in the 1970s, I think it was (the details are in the book).
But, in any case, the book was meant to be about the welfare state, not about football refereeing, so reluctantly I changed the way it was written to put less emphasis on the astonishing history of sendings off. I did not want to put people off my welfare state arguments by arguing with them about football!
Nevertheless, I am glad to a kind of back-handed support for my views from Mr Keane. It is implicit in his interview that he thinks behaviour has deteriorated. He, of course, was a fully paid-up member of this trend. For details of his own sorry role, see Chapter One.
This is from the Telegraph article:
Roy Keane yesterday emerged as a surprising source of support for the refereeing fraternity when he launched an extraordinary attack on England's football elite, claiming he was thankful he no longer played in the Premiership because of the cheats who are plaguing the national game's top tier.
The former Manchester United captain, no stranger to brushes with authority during his time at Old Trafford, claimed unspecified England internationals were among the culprits as he surprisingly expressed sympathy for the plight of referees such as Graham Poll and the intense scrutiny to which their decisions are now subjected.
"Players are conning each other," the Sunderland manager said. "I'm glad I'm not playing any more, especially in the Premiership. There's a lot of sneaky stuff going on that makes it hard for referees.
"I can't get my head round a player who rolls round and then he's up 30 seconds later. If I was the manager, I'd be embarrassed. That's cheating, trying to get another player in trouble. Managers have to take responsibility. I'm trying to with my players.
"Players have to treat referees fairly. When they go down it must be genuine. Players know each other, they know Paul Scholes won't go down rolling around, the same with Steven Gerrard.
"There's plenty out there doing that and it must be hard for referees. If they don't do anything about a player on the ground and he's badly injured, they're in a height of trouble."
Despite being sent off 11 times in his career, Keane added: "I'm on my high horse because maybe I kicked a lot of players, but I'm on about conning the referee. There are a lot of players out there trying to put one over the referee by diving.
"They say, 'Give him a booking, send him off'. We all know the players. I could tell you them, high-profile ones, but I wouldn't give them the time of day and that's why I'm glad I'm not playing in the Premiership any more – I'd be pulling my hair out.
"There are plenty of lads who play for England who do it, and lads who play for Ireland and Scotland who do it. It's not just a foreign thing.
"Lads I've played with dived and it drove me crazy, going down like they've been shot, faking injury. If I'd done that and after the game you have to go and see your family, they'd disown me if I was trying to get another player in trouble.
"I know people said, well, I kicked a lot of people, well forget about that, I'm on about the diving business. You don't mind people having a go at you, hitting you hard, but not this rolling round and basically faking injury. You see it every week in the Premiership."
These days Keane, who strongly supports Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's call for referees to give post-match media briefings, is more understanding towards officialdom –and it shows.
"I don't want our players at any level abusing refs," he added. "A lot of it comes from the staff. You can appeal decisions in the right way but no swearing and abusing refs. I've never seen a referee change his mind."
The former Republic of Ireland captain helped United to seven Premiership titles and was once famously captured over-stepping the mark when Andy D'Urso awarded a penalty to Middlesbrough.
"I wouldn't say that picture embarrasses me, it was a learning curve, but it was completely wrong," Keane reflected with a mixture of regret and humour. "Sir Alex [Ferguson] told me that in no uncertain terms and I was fined. People think I had a licence to do that, far from it.
"At the time I didn't think it was that bad but then he showed me the video. I still think whoever took the picture super-imposed the veins – camera trickery.
"I still reckon if he hadn't run, we wouldn't have chased him. He kept running over to the far side so you're going to chase him. If he stands and you push him, you're off."
In a small Tesco store in Alresford, a pretty Georgian village in Hampshire, I saw a sign declaring that flour and eggs would not be sold to people under 18 years of age until after October 31st. What a strange development this is.
Tesco has imposed the ban because it is trying to do its bit to reduce the amount of damage done by those who 'trick or treat' on the night of Halloween. I don't know for how many years it has imposed such a ban. I was ready to believe that this was another case of the nanny culture gone mad. But the staff there told me that it was no joke. Even in this village that looks as though it is the epitome of English civilisation, they told me that Halloween night is an evening on which those who 'trick or treat' really do some genuinely nasty things. The damage that can be inflicted with flour and eggs is the least of it. The 'trick or treaters' have been known to go a great deal further including setting fire to letterboxes.
A sign such as Tesco now feels it must put up would not have been at all necessary even 20 years ago, let alone 50. It is hard to overstate the reduction in civility in British culture.
This is an article of mine which appeared in the Yorkshire Post.
MY FATHER used to tell my brother and I about his time serving in India during the Second World War. The Japanese army was advancing and looked likely to invade.
My father said that his greatest fear was that, if captured by the Japanese, he would be unable to hold out in the face of torture and might let down his comrades by revealing military secrets.
The way he thought about this reveals something about his generation's mindset. For millions of people such as my father, duty towards others was one of their major concerns. The concept of duty – and honour – were strong.
But the British now tend to think in a different way. How many now are worried, above all, about their responsibilities to others? Some are, of course, and they can be heroic in caring, for example, for disabled members of their family. But more generally, there is now almost a national ethic of selfishness. The whole character of the British people has been revolutionised.
Why have we changed from being a society so law abiding that George Orwell wrote in 1944: "An imaginary foreign observer would certainly be struck by our gentleness; by the orderly behaviour of English crowds, the lack of pushing and quarrelling... there is very little crime or violence."
He would be astonished if he returned today. In a recent survey by the Jill Dando Institute, fewer people in Britain than in any other major European country said they would confront a group of 14-year-olds vandalising a bus shelter.
I suspect this is largely because we are aware these days that there are some very dangerous 14-year-olds around.
There is an enormous contrast here: in 1931, during Orwell's lifetime, there were three crimes a year for every police officer. By 2001, that figure had rocketed to 44.
Why has family life, too, changed beyond recognition? The big, extended family was very important in the 1950s.
Michael Young – who, incidentally, was the author of the Labour Party's 1945 election manifesto – studied the way the working class lived in the East End of London. He was impressed by the many thriving, supportive, extended families. A woman shopped for her elderly uncle. The young were baby-sat by the old. Contacts between members of aunts, grandparents and cousins were frequent.
Now, in place of these vibrant, extended families, there has been an explosion of unmarried parenting. Often children go entirely without contact or support from the father's side. And the mother herself may
also lack contact with her own father.
What has caused these massive changes in British society? The research I did for my book, The Welfare State We're In, led me to think that, strange though it may seem, this transformation has been brought about largely by the development of the welfare state.
The welfare state was created, of course, with good intentions. It was meant to provide a safety net for the unfortunate. But, as an unintended by-product, it changed the way we live and the pressures which each of us feel in our daily lives.
Previously, we had powerful reasons to be good people.
Imagine yourself, for a moment, to be a working man living a century ago. You are almost certainly a member of a friendly society, like the vast majority of industrial workers. Being a member of a friendly society (there were hundreds of them) means that you have insurance against being unemployed or of becoming incapable of work.
Let's imagine that you get sick. You are seen by a doctor employed by the friendly society, and then visited by other members.
These are people you see at meetings of the local branch of the society. They live nearby. If you need some help, they will willingly offer it.
But if they see you out in the garden, perfectly fit and well, they will know that you are cheating your fellow society members. You would be shamed in your own community. This represents a strong pressure on you to behave well and to be honest. It encourages a sense of responsibility and honour.
You are married. But note how you persuaded the young woman to marry you. She chose you with care because she knew that the state would not give her support if you turned out to be work-shy or irresponsible.
So she wanted a man who would be reliable and provide for any children you might have. To get this wife and have a family with her, you had an incentive to prove yourself a good, trustworthy man.
Over and over again, the absence of a welfare state left in place natural pressures on people to be decent. But the modern welfare state has taken many of these away. It has said to poorer women: "Don't worry if the father of your children can't provide; other taxpayers will." It has said to men: "Don't worry if you don't feel too good, you can stay on incapacity benefit for years on end and we probably won't know if you are working on the side."
If claimants have lied, there is often no punishment and no public shame. People don't really care if you cheat a whole nation's taxpayers – not like they would care if you were cheating them and their friends personally.
The impact of the welfare state on the character of Britain is pervasive. There is not the room here to look at the effects of other parts of the welfare state: the keeping of alienated children at state schools; the discouragement to saving provided by means-tested benefits, now being enhanced by Gordon Brown's convoluted and inefficient system of tax credits; and the impact of permanent mass unemployment – which has only existed since the introduction of the welfare state – on people's morale and attitudes.
Yet these add up to powerful forces shaping our lives and changing our culture.
There are, of course, still some people who are marvellously kind and decent. But how many children being brought up today understand the culture and the way of thinking that led Admiral Nelson, on his deathbed, to say "Thank God, I have done my duty"?
To buy a copy of The Welfare State We're In from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop for £12.99, call free on 0800 0153232. Postage and packing costs £1.95. Order on-line at www.yorkshirepostbookshop.co.uk
Useful figures on using prisons to fight crime:
"Anti-prison campaigners are, of course, fond of claiming that jail does not work, pointing to the high levels of re-offending among ex-convicts. But this is to ignore the crucial point that when a criminal is locked up, it is physically impossible for him to commit any offences.
"He may return to his life of crime once he is released, but at least when he is inside, the public is safe from him.
"There are sobering statistics to show just how many crimes he might have committed had he not been locked up. According to a Home Office survey in 2000, the average inmate committed 140 crimes in the 12 months before his admission into custody.
"On that basis, if we locked up 10,000 more offenders a year, we could prevent 1.4 million offences, saving the public purse a fortune as well as reducing aggravation for law-abiding citizens.
"The indisputable fact is that, according to police records and the authoritative British Crime Survey, crime levels have fallen when more offenders have been sent to prison.
"Yet the conjunction of a rising jail population and declining crime causes the anti-prison brigade to descend into tortuously illogical thinking and intellectual absurdities as they refuse to face up to the facts."
This is from an article by David Green in the Daily Mail
Unfortunately the Express does not publish online so I can't link to an excellent article by Simon Kernick, a novellist, with the headline "How law and order has been betrayed by the crazy Human Rights Act". It would be good if a copy of this article could be deposited with the porters of every QC in London and at the offices of all solicitors.
In brief, he describes how Lisa Potts saved children from being hacked to death with a machete and was herself badly injured as a result. She could not work for at least five years and was awarded £68,000 compensation. Since then, £2.7 million was awarded by the prison service to a prisoner last moonth allegedly for negligence over a failed suicide bid. The sum of £72,000 was paid to another prisoner who fell over and hurt his back.
I know that some lawyers have an amazing capacity to think that justice is whatever a court decides. But most of us, who are not lawyers, think this sort of thing is absurd and disgusting.
Mr Kernick goes on to described specific ways in which the Human Rights Act does harm.
1. The spiral of compensation claims made by prisoners. Payouts in this area have risen sixfold since 2003-04.
2. Rights of supsects 'including such gems as the right to a quiet home life' have made surveillance operations a potential minefield.
3. It is practcally impossible to deport foreigners convicted of a crime in Britain to their home countries if there is even a remote possibility of torture or mistreatment. This applies to terrorist suspects, too. So we keep in our society those who want to kill us.
4. Police are no long allowed to take the risks that used to be normal. They are no longer allowed to pursue criminals over rooftops, for example, because it is perceived as too dangerous and could give rise to a negligence claim.
5. In court, the benefit of the doubt seems to be given to the accused, not the accuser.
I am not sure that the Human Rights Act really has a role in the last of these but I would not be surprised if it does.
I am convinced, though, that the Human Rights Act has handicapped the fight against crime, that is has therefore made this country a less safe place in which to live for ourselves and our families and that it has taken away the ability of lawmakers and enforcers in Britain to exercise common sense.
In researching the article (see previous entry) on prison sentencing, I came across the following facts and figures:
In January 1993 there were 41,561 in jail in England and Wales. The current population is 77,004 (according to BBC Online).
When Labour came to power in 1997, the prison population had increased to more than 60,000, a rise of about 45 per cent in four years.
The prison population is currently 143 per 100,000 of total population in England and Wales. In other words, 0.143% of the total population is in jail.
The equivalent figures for other countries are:
United States 724
South Africa 344
Norther Ireland 80
11,081 inmates were recalled to prison in 2004/05 compared with 3,182 in 2000'01 'a staggering increase' according to Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers. There was thus a 250% increase in the number of prisoners recalled for breaching release conditions.
More people are in prison for 'violence against the person' than anything else. Next in order are drug offences, burglary, robbery and sexual offences. These five categories account for the large majority of those in prison.
Exactly half of female prisoners and 47 per cent of male prisoners ran away from home as a child. This compares to 11 per cent of children in the general population that runs away. 52 per cent of male prisoners and 71 per cent of female prisoners have no qualifications.
About seven out of ten prisoners of both sexes have two or more mental disorders. More than half of both sexes have used drugs in the previous year. (BBC Online cites the Prison Reform Trust Social Exclusion Unit as the source for these figures.)
The BBC Online coverage of prisons is here. You can then click on 'facts and figures'.
Unedited version of my article in today's Daily Express:
Anybody reading this newspaper would have been proud to have had Tom Grant as a son or brother. He left school last year with A grades in history, politics and French. He had been captain of football and was awarded Oakham School's W.W.Holman prize for 'Promise, Endeavour and Achievement'. Only two weeks ago, he returned to his former school in Rutland and the headmaster, Dr Spence, remarked "He seemed so alive and so buoyed with enthusiasm". Everything we know about Tom Grant suggests he was a particularly fine, young man, with a strong sense of responsibility.
It was because of his sense of responsibility that when he saw an argument on the train getting to a dangerous point, he intervened. He paid for the decision with his life. He was stabbed to death. He had been on his way from Glasgow to Paignton to see his parents.
Yesterday, on the very same day we heard of the Tom Grant's death, an interview was published in The Guardian with the chief judge of this country: Lord Phillips. Lord Phillips is at the peak of the legal profession. As Lord Chief Justice, he is influential with the judges who make important decisions every day. So what did he say? That fewer criminals should be sent to jail. He expressed concerned that prison overcrowding was "absolutely fatal" for efforts to treat convicts. He said judges should not send people to prison unless they really have to and that "the sensible place for rehabilitation is in the community".
It is tempting just to throw ones hands up in despair.
How on earth does our legal system manage to throw up a succession of out-of-touch, highly-educated fools? Lord Phillips is just the latest in a line of top judges fixated on the well-being of convicted criminals rather than the imposition of law and order.
Anyone who has been keeping up with recent events knows that there has been a series of serious crimes committed by people who might well have been in prison but were not. John Monckton, the banker killed on his own doorstep in front of his wife, was attacked by Damien Hanson, 24, who had been been given early release three months earlier from a 12 year sentence for attempted murder.
Young Mary-Ann Leneghan was subjected to a three-hour ordeal of rape and torture before being stabbed to death. Four of the six young men who attacked her and a friend of hers, were "under supervision in the community". Then there were the deaths of Robert Symons, a teacher, in London, and the killing of jeweller Marian Bates in Nottingham. All these people were killed by people who were not in jail but who might have been. They might have been, that is, if the government and judges like Lord Phillips had not taken the view that fewer criminals should be in jail.
Lord Phillips says he is concerned about prison overcrowding. That is a fair point in tself. But it is illogical to take this as a reason for not sending dangerous men in jail. The logical answer is to call for the building of more prisons. Why doesn't the Lord Chief Justice do that?
The one and only time when recorded crime in Britain fell was after Michael Howard became Home Secretary and declared 'prison works'. The capacity of British prisons jumped by nearly half in only four years as a result of his efforts. He did all he could to tip the balance in court cases in favour of justice and against 'not guilty' verdicts based on technical or legallistic excuses.
Lawyers seem to have got something against punishment such as prison. They object that Britain already imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other western European country. It does not seem to occur to them that the reason for this is that we have a higher incidence of crime than most other European countries. It is therefore absolutely right that we should imprison more. Incidentally, they also avert their eyes from the fact that there are plenty of other countries in the world which imprison far more criminals than we do, including the USA and Russia.
Violent crime here is bad and getting worse. It is true that the British Crime Survey, which the government likes to quote, claims the exact opposite. Unfortunately this survey, once regarded as the best guide to crime, has gradually become wholly unbelievable. It depicts a situation getting enormously better in every possible way. The figures are totally at variance with our experiences and the figures for recorded crime which show, for example, that murders have risen by a fifth over the past decade. Serious wounding and 'other acts endangering life' have nearly doubled. Admittedly there have been changes to the way these things are recorded, but after allowing for these changes, there has still been a major increase in recorded life-threatening crime.
The fundamental reasons for the rise in violent crime doubtless lies in profound changes in our society such as the breakdown of family life. Half of those in prison ran away from home as children. Those may be the underlying 'causes of crime'. But it is not the role of judges to try to put all that right. All they can do, like the police, is to help in the fight against actual crime.
What they must do, willingly and for the protection of us all, is put serious and persistent criminals in jail. If they lack - as Lord Phillips appears to do - the necessary courage and determination to protect honest citizens, they should get out of the law enforcement business altogether and leave it to people who think protecting young men like Tom Grant is the most vital part of their job.
Kiyan Prince, 15, was stabbed to death with a knife last week outside his school, the London Academy in Edgware, North London. Since then it has emerged that two of the classmates of this promising young footballer, one aged 14 and the other 15, have been found guilty of the knife murder of an asylum seeker.
Some parents at the school have been quoted saying their children are terrified of knives. There has been a plea for the children who go there to be checked for weapons, to make the others safe.
All this comes soon after a series of knife crimes recently including the fatal stabbing of Christopher Alamene, 18, in Sheerness, Kent.
If ever there were a moment when the public would want the Prime Minister to offer a really convincing lead, then this was it.
But yesterday in parliament, when he was questioned about how he was going to deal with the growing knife culture, how did he respond? Tony Blair said that he was "hopeful" that the amnesty for turning over knives to the police, which started yesterday, would be successful. He claimed that such amnesties had "worked successfully some years back". He also mentioned that the minimum age for buying a knife would be increased and that further kinds of knife were being added to the 'offensive weapons' list.
It is impossible to believe that this little collection of measures will be at all effective. The scale of the problem was small only a decade ago. Now it is growing rapidly. Previous amnesties did absolutely nothing to stop the growth of the knife culture.
The figures are astonishing. The number of people prosecuted for carrying a knife rose by nearly 60 per cent in the five years up to 2004 - a huge rise in a very short time. There is plenty of reason to think it is getting much worse.
Lady Anelay, a former JP, believes that in some parts of the country, the carrying of knives has nearly doubled in just two years. She says she has heard of two schools where over a quarter of the children are carrying them.
Make no mistake, schools are at the very heart of this. An enormously disproportionate number of knife crimes are committed by teenagers. Two out of every five knife crimes are committed just by those in the 15 to 18 age group.
How serious has the government been about tackling this? Well, it has not been making schools into knife-free zones, that is for sure. How many children were prosecuted for carrying a knife on school premises in 2004? A mere 39. The figure would be funny if it were not for the fact that the presence of knives in schools is precisely what has led to several deaths in recent years. But there is worse. Although all but two of the 39 were found guilty, only a single one was given a custodial sentence.
So here we have a knife culture that is growing fast and, in 2004, one solitary knife-wielding child in school was put in custody. What sort of message does that send to the large numbers of teenagers carrying knives in school? It tells them to go ahead. You probably won't be caught and, if you are, and if you are prosecuted, you still will not get any meaningful punishment.
The fight against knife crime has been feeble and totally inadequate. The amnesty, in the words of Dr Marian Fitzgerald, a former Home Office criminologist, "can't achieve very much". It is hard to resist the idea that this amnesty is, above all a political gimmick intended to give the impression that the government is going to make things better.
It is said that the value of the amnesty is 'symbolic' and it might make some children more aware that it is against the law to carry a knife. But those likely to worry about it being against the law are the ones least likely actually to use their knives. And even if a knife is handed over, there is nothing to stop an adult going out and buying another one the next day. A child would be able to get hold of one quickly too, even if it is simply by taking one out of the kitchen drawer.
What is needed is something far more radical. Schools where knives have become a problem need to be able to use metal detectors to make the schools safe. Surely that is the minimum that any responsible government would expect and demand. But unfortunately the schools minister, Jim Knight, has already snubbed the idea of metal detectors at the London Academy.
The government needs to use stop and search actively to find knives. When they find them, they should then prosecute unless there are some exceptional circumstances. And the courts, in turn, should treat the offence as a serious crime, using custodial sentences far more often than they do now.
Unfortunately, the chances of the government doing this are virtually nil. This is the government which has failed to build sufficient prisons. That is why serious offenders have been put in open prisons from which they have easily escaped. Our prisons are so full now that they have become like hotels in Cheltenham during the racing festival. They are extremely difficult to get into. You have to commit a very serious crime, preferably more than once, to gain entry. Those who are 'only' found guilty of carrying a knife are not going to be put in custody because there just isn't room.
This demonstrates the true lack of seriousness of this government in fighting crime. The use of an amesty is merely gesture politics. It is all talk and spin. What we need is a determined, hard-headed battle against the knives. If the government's attitude is not transformed, then more of the youths we see on street corners will be carrying these weapons. More children will be frightened to go to school at all and an ever-increasing number of Christopher Alamenes and Kiyan Princes will die, leaving their grieving parents behind.
This is the unedited version of my article in today's Daily Express.
The revised and updated paperback edition of The Welfare State We're In is published tomorrow. As part of the publicity for the launch, I have written an article that appears in the Sunday Telegraph today. Here is an extract:
According to research published last week, Britons have the worst reputation for yobbish behaviour in Europe.
Three-quarters of Europeans think Britain has a problem with anti-social behaviour - a higher figure than for any other country on the Continent, the study, devised with help from the Jill Dando Institute, discovered.
It blamed drunkenness and a breakdown in discipline in homes and schools.
The Victorians would have been appalled and astonished. A principal finding of this report would have been quite contrary to one of their strongest beliefs: the idea that schools have contributed to the "loutification" of Britain.
Victorians thought that education was crucial in the fight against crime.
When I first came across the assertion that compulsory state schooling had contributed to the amount of crime in British society I found it an extraordinary idea. We are so accustomed to thinking that schools are good, admirable institutions that it is strange to think that they might be doing harm in any way at all. But the more one considers the evidence, the more credible this surprising thought becomes.
The full article is here.
There is more on the subject in the chapter on education in The Welfare State We're In.
Sometimes people claim that the statistics showing crime has soared in this country are misleading. They suggest - though rarely with any evidence in my experience - that crime is far more commonly reported now than in the past. But now and again, people speak from their memory and it cuts through all the statistical arguments. Tony Blair did it a few months ago when harking back to the days of his youth when people could leave their front doors open without fear of being burgled. Today, here is Bill Deedes, whose memory goes back right to the 1930s:
As we are reminded daily, we are a more violent country than we were. Why? Surely we ought to be more concerned about it. Ministers are happy for us to blame poverty, but that is nonsense. I was a newspaper's crime correspondent in the 1930s, when poverty was incomparably harsher than today, and can make comparisons.
We have become so accustomed to reading of children being knifed for their mobile telephones, men robbed and then gratuitously stabbed to death, and grannies beaten over the head for a few pence, that we are no longer surprised by it. But if you have a memory as long as mine, you will know how alarmingly we have descended.
The full column is here.
Another step forward: a six-part BBC series on benefits and how they got wrong. The first one, tonight, appears to be about benefit fraud. According the Telegraph,
David Street, the series' producer, said: "These are just a few of the cases that are prosecuted every year. The scale of fraud in disability living allowance claims is just staggering.
"I have made a lot of programmes about fraud and I have to say I was stunned by the size of this problem."
The full article is here.
The programme is on BBC1 at 8.30pm tonight and is called 'On the fiddle'.
Newspaper articles don't get much more important than the Daily Telegraph one below. It goes to the heart of how and why the character of British people has changed. You see in it incentives not to be married. Through that, you see a major cause of the increasing number of children not brought up within a family with married, committed parents. That, in turn, tends on average - though not always, of course - to lead to alienation and delinquency among more children. That is a pathway to uncivil behaviour and crime. And then there is also the incentive to fraud - making lying and cheating a normal part of the way people lead their lives.
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
Thousands of couples with children may be choosing to live apart because they can cash in on benefits.
An official report by one of the Government's former leading experts on the family shows that as many as one million couples in a committed sexual relationship live most of their time at separate addresses.
Family campaigners seized on the findings, saying women who lived apart from their child's father or a new partner were rewarded with higher levels of state benefits.
The research, contained in a politically sensitive report published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, has prompted politicians and family campaigners to question Government policy. They say changes to the tax and benefits system could encourage women to wait until they are married before having children.
The ONS report, Living arrangements in contemporary Britain, has been surrounded by controversy for some time.
Last year there were claims - strongly denied by the ONS - that the Government was suppressing a draft version because the findings could be seen as embarrassing.
Yesterday Roma Chappell, of the ONS's editorial board, said the final report drew no conclusions on why so many couples were living in such an untraditional fashion.
Asked why there were no references to the possible financial disincentives of living together in the final report, she said the earlier report was "a working paper which went to academics. It had more information in it that was speculative. The current one is not speculative. The report has been edited".
Yesterday's report found that one million couples in committed relationships chose to live apart, which amounts to three in 10 men and women under 60 - excluding teenagers living at home with their parents, and full-time students who have girlfriends or boyfriends elsewhere. It was not clear how many of the couples had children or were divorced.
The ONS said a couple might be cautious about cohabiting and prefer to have their own separate addresses. They may also be living with children from a previous marriage or living apart from their partner because he or she had moved away because of their job. Alternatively, the couple may just be starting out together and could end up marrying or cohabiting.
The ONS would not be drawn on the possible financial benefits of being a lone parent household.
The complete article is here.
A grim tale of the British underclass. It is gruesome to think that minds can become so alienated and vicious.
(The news story to which this account is related is here.)
Updating more statistics from The Welfare State We're In, I have been looking at the crime figures.
The statistics are extraordinary. The amount of theft is going down - such as theft from cars. But the amount of violence is going up. Curiously, the number of homicides in 2004/05, at 859, is not massively higher than the number recorded in, say, 1900 (312). But there have been enormous rises in other kinds of violent crime.
I will give the figures for 1900, 1998/99 and 2004/05 (note that the system for recording crime changed in 1998/99. Where it made a big difference, I will note it.)
Attempted murder 75; 676; 736
Threats or conspiracy to murder 8; 11,212; 23,668
Wounding or other acts endangering life 269; 14,006; 19,425
Other wounding 943; 196,737; 485,195
(redefinitions aplenty in this category but even in the past two years, using the same definitions, there has been a rise from 345,345 in 2002/03 to 485,196)
These are stunning figures. The trend towards more violence is still raging. The jump in 'wounds or other acts endangering life' from 14,006 to 19,425 since 1998/99 is telling because it is hard to think of any way in which the figures could be regarded as misleading. The definitions are unchanged. There is little question of extra reporting (which could well have taken place in cases of rape). So the conclusion must surely be that Britain is becoming a markedly more dangerous and violent place.
There's a real culture of dependency on these estates. One reason is because people expect to be housed and never to be kicked out....
Imagine you are a nine-year old boy living here. You see these groups of older boys. They seem to be tough. They seem to be having a good time. Nobody interferes with them. You want to be a man and these appear to be men to you.
These are quotes from a new pamphlet.There is a shortage of descriptions of the dynamics of life for those who become alienated and turn to crime and other forms of destructive behaviour. So the publication of No Man's Land: How Britain's Inner City Youth Are Being Failed by the Centre of Policy Studies is welcome.It is written by Shaun Bailey, a man whose mother tried to get him away from the council estate culture in which she lived. She succeeded but he has returned to try to help on an estate. He describes the culture there.
The first chapter is on the CPS website here. The full pamphlet can be bought via that website. There is a serialisation in the Daily Mail today.
Almost every child is affected by bullying and is growing up in a society that sees violence as "the norm", the children's commissioner has said. Professor Al Aynsley-Green argued that, despite good work in schools, there is still denial about the "existence, severity and effect" of bullying.
He told the Observer that violence had become the norm in the workplace, on television and in the home.
This is from BBC online this morning.
Professor Aynsley-Green's comments came just days after 15-year-old Natashia Jackman was stabbed in the head while at school in Camberley, Surrey.
And on Wednesday, 19-year-old Tommy Kimpton, of Penryn, Cornwall, was sentenced to two years in prison for killing a friend who had bullied him.
All this is likely to get worse, not better. The social problems which give rise to it, including unmarried parenting, mass unemployment, benefit dependency, compulsory attendance to the age of 16 of children who are not successfully taught even how to read and write, are all still in place and in some cases even more serious than 15 years ago.
The audience of parents of children at Tonbridge School last night was one of the most positive and supportive I have come across.
I talked mainly about how the welfare state has damaged the culture and morality of Britain and how it has led to higher levels of crime. One member of the audience responded by saying he had been a fireman who had worked in council estates. There had been youths there who he described as 'untouchables' - that is they were not touched or cowed by anything. They did not care if they were arrested, or got hurt or went to prison. These youths would throw bricks at himself and other firemen as they tried to put out fires.
What an extraordinary level of alienation for society must have taken place for people to throw bricks at firemen. It is staggering and shocking. It is also, surely, something similar to the alienation of the French youths rioting in French towns at present.
A hospital consultant made the comment that he saw a proliferation of administrative or managerial non-jobs in hospitals - people involved in diversity or equality promotion.
Someone else suggested there was a great deal of over-qualification going on in the NHS. This applied not only to nurses but also to physiotherapists and all sorts of others.
Another woman expressed outrage and disgust that people with ordinary incomes, who were saving for their families, were now due to get hit with inheritance tax which would go to give money to young girls having babies out of wedlock. It was interesting to come across that kind of raw anger and sense of injustice. In The Welfare State We're In, I tried to avoid a tone of anger. I tried to keep as much as possible to the observable damage the welfare state has done to the whole of society, especially the poor. But the woman's anger is perfectly understandable and justified.
The working poor are now taxed quite heavily. For people to be angry at the misuse of taxpayers' money can no longer be described as merely the rich moaning about being made to give money to the poor. It is everyone showing a justifiable opposition to money being taken from the working and decent and spent on encouraging and subsidising others not to work or to behave in other ways which are damaging to themselves and others.
When the riots in Paris are reported, the most commonly mentioned factor is race. The implication is that this is a cause of the violence. No doubt racial conflict adds to the problem. There is also mention of people being poor.
But I suspect something different lies behind it all. The report in the Telegraph on Thursday by Henry Samuel referred several times to the places in which the riots took place:
The riots first broke out on the Chêne-Pointu council estate. Last Thursday, two adolescents from the estate died when they scaled the 8ft wall of an electricity substation to dodge police and were electrocuted.
....Chêne-Pointu typifies the problems of many of the urban ghettoes that surround Paris and other large French cities: a high immigrant population, soaring unemployment and drug dealing.
...."We're not dumb. Sarkozy has declared war on suburban youth," said Karim, 23. "Unless he apologises for the way he has treated us, then he can expect 40 nights of violence," he said.
But others around the estate back Mr Sarkozy. "What he says may be crude, but he's right. Drug runners and petty criminals have had it good too long around here.
....In the neighbouring Bosquet estate, Traore Gounedi, a 27-year-old worker in a local social centre, is incensed. "Ten years ago, Clichy was a real no-go area. But in recent years we had built up sports clubs and other associations and it had become calm...."
As night fell at Chêne-Pointu, sirens heralded the approach of two fire engines that positioned themselves in front of the estate awaiting the flames.
Notice the appearances of the word
'estate' in these excerpts. To what extent could the violence be due to alienation and criminalisation in council estates with high proportions of unemployed and never-married lone parents? In other words, not really race or being poor.
It is impossible to be precise, of course. But it is interesting to note the way council estates seem to be the hubs of the riots. Of course, many will take the word 'estate' to be merely an indication of 'social deprivation' and conclude that the people in these estates need to be given more. But there are poor people all over the world, yet the riots are taking place in a rich country where people are living on state-provided property and many are living on state-provided hand-outs.
Meanwhile we also know, as background, that many council estates have become crime-ridden in both France and Britain. We also know that the unemployed and children of unmarried mothers are more likely to turn to crime. There is also plenty of evidence that unemployment and unmarried, lone parenting is encouraged by welfare benefits (see The Welfare State We're In. The unemployed and the never married tend to be concentrated in council estates which, in their turn and of themselves, appear to have an alienating effect on those who live in them.
From this it does seem possible, to put it modestly, that the root cause of the violence in these Paris council estates, lies in welfare benefits and state-provided housing in damaging combination. In short, the cause of the riots could be the French welfare state.
Scotland is the most violent country in the developed world, followed by other parts of the United Kingdom. This is according to a UN assessment. It tells us volumes about how dramatically the culture in this country has deteriorated. The middle class does not see most of what is going on. The complacent reassurances of the Governmen which repeatedly asserts that it is making progress and hiring more officers is - in the light of these figures - absurdly inadequate.
The Times article on the subject is here.
The Government spends a huge amount of our money on social research. This research is one of the main sources of data for independent analysis, too. But the Government deliberately avoids researching things when it might discover things that are inconvenient. It does not analyse convicted criminals to find out their family backgrounds - particularly whether or not their parents were married and stayed together throughout their childhood. In America, 32 per cent of all adult criminals were found to have lost one parent before the age of fifteen. At the time, only eight per cent of the population at large had a lost a parent in this way. And in Britain? We don't know. The Government does not want to know. It might interfere with the politically correct pretence that all kinds of parenting are just as good.
Here is an excellent excerpt from an email newsletter by Harry Benson on another way in which the Government is avoiding the truth. He ends with a call for people to join in fighting this "see no truth" attitude to social research. The more who respond to his call, the better:
At the end of June, the government released its latest findings from the Families and Children Study (FACS). FACS is a superbly designed panel study that has followed the progress of several thousand families for five years.
The latest study found that lone parent families were more likely to work less, earn less, save less, be unemployed, be deprived, be on benefits and suffer poorer health than couple families. The finding does not tell us much that is new but adds to a large body of existing research.
What is especially striking is the way the study completely disregards marriage. For the second year running, FACS combines four different family types into one super group called “couple families”. Yet there is a great deal of existing research showing that these four types – married and unmarried families, as well as married and unmarried stepfamilies – do not have the same outcomes.
Two years ago, for example, an earlier FACS study of the same families showed that married couples, regardless of other factors, were at significantly lower risk of family breakdown compared to unmarried couples.
Why have the researchers done this? It smacks of censorship. FACS is commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). DWP will have set out the aims of the study. The researchers then carry out the instructions of their paymasters.
In late 2003, without debate, the government quietly decided to abolish the term “marital status”. This was announced on page 41 of an obscure government paper responding to a consultation on civil partnerships. Since then, mention of marriage has been systematically eliminated from the government lexicon. When Labour abolished the marriage allowance, tax and benefit systems ceased to distinguish between married and unmarried couples. The FACS study is a perfect example of the new political correctness in action.
The policy argument against distinguishing marriage from cohabitation is to avoid stigmatising children. If only. The unintended consequence of this destructive political correctness is that more couples don’t bother marrying. And why should they when the government’s actions indicate that marriage is not important?
The result is a rise in family breakdown driven not by divorce but entirely by the trend away from marriage and associated collapse of unmarried families. Instead of avoiding the stigma of unmarried parents, huge numbers of children now experience the far worse tragedy of family breakdown.
Government censorship now prevents researchers from highlighting the benefits and protections that accrue to married couples and their children. George Orwell was 20 years ahead of his time.
Please join me in writing to the new Work and Pensions Minister Stephen Timms MP (House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA) to request that he distinguish between married and unmarried families in future commissions of the Families and Children Study.
Harry Benson's Bristol Community Family Trust website is here. For anyone interested in marriage and parenting issues it is well worthwhile visiting and registering to receive his emails.
Here is an excerpt for a Guardian article about 'youth cabinets' discussing the problems of the young:
There are too many exams; gangs are out of control (although some thoughtful voices ask what the difference is between a group of friends and a gang, concluding that it depends on which neighbourhood they are from); bullying makes many lives a misery and knives are becoming a common sight in playgrounds.
Sapphire, 15, from Leeds, thinks that by the time she has children most primary school pupils will be carrying knives. One boy says a gun was brought into the playground at his school. Crime seems a daily reality in these children's communities.
For some time now I have been confident that the number of children being home-schooled has been rising fast.
Now comes confirmation from an article in the Sunday Times. What the article does not analyse is the cause of the trend. I would suggest that it is partly
1. dissatisfaction of middle class parents with the quality of education their children can get particularly, but not only, at state state schools.
2. Inability readily to pay for private education (which, arguably, is much more expensive than it should be, for a variety of reasons including state rules on planning, health and safety and so on).
3. Desire of parents to save their children from the violence and influences towards crime, drugs and teenage parenting in some of the more 'bog-standard' inner city comprehensives.
Here is the Sunday Times article:
Number of children taught at home soars Lois Rogers, Social Affairs Editor THE number of children taught at home has almost doubled in the past five years, a trend that experts say reflects a crisis of confidence in the state school system. Government figures show the number of five to 16-year-olds educated at home jumped from 12,000 in 1999 to 21,000 last year.
The increasing number of parents opting out of the school system reflects a similar trend in the United States, where one in 20 children is now taught at home.
Though children have to be educated, there is no legal requirement in Britain for them to attend school. The progress of children at home may be monitored at intervals by the local education authority.
Home teaching groups claim the number taught at home could soar to 150,000 by 2015, equivalent to one child in 30.
Mike Fortune-Wood, of Home Education UK, a website that provides advice on home schooling, said there was a “quiet revolution” going on. “People find that at home they can provide their children with an education far better suited to their individual needs,” he said.
Janey Lee Grace, a Radio 2 presenter and mother of three, teaches her two older sons, aged five and six, at her Hertfordshire home. She relies on a network of like-minded parents, informal tutoring groups and an organisation called Naturekids, which stresses the link between learning and nutrition.
“I think the school system fails most kids,” she said. “It’s fine if you want to be in the army, but not for most people who are more individual.
“I know a home-taught 11-year-old who is taking her maths GCSE. She will take the rest of her GCSEs at the normal age, but because she is good at maths she is going at her own faster speed.”
In the next academic year parents teaching at home will have the further support of the country’s first internet secondary school. The £165-a-month online school is being pioneered by Paul Daniell, 42, a senior physics teacher in south Wales.
It will use the internet and conference-call technology to offer GCSEs in seven core subjects. Teachers will give morning classes online to small groups and set them work for the afternoon under parental supervision.
To date, more than 40 children have been signed up to the “Inter High School”, which has three teachers. Numbers are expected to grow, with interest from families abroad and even teachers in conventional schools who wish to use the lessons.
Another measure of how brutish Britain is becoming: DHL will no longer deliver to some areas because of the danger to drivers. Imagine what those areas must be like for the residents.
DHL has put parts of London, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham off limits because of complaints from its drivers.
Recently blacklisted areas include London's Canning Town and Custom House.
The firm, which will not give exact details of other trouble-spots, is asking people to collect their packages from its local depots.
The BBC online version of the story is here.
Ron Haskins, a senior adviser to President Bush on welfare reform, addressed the Centre for Policy Studies yesterday. It was an exceptionally good presentation - powerful about the way in which the 1996 welfare reform programme has succeeded and honest about admitting ways in which it has disappointed.
He brought home that the welfare reform was not, as it is usually described in Britain, a genuinely bi-partisan affair. It was, above all, a Republican reform that was fought bitterly by most Democrats (with one particularly notable exception). Based on the American experience, we should not get hung up on the idea that only the Left can reform welfare on the same basis that 'only Nixon could make peace with Commmunist China'. In America, passionate Republicans aimed to save their country though welfare reform and they have, to a remarkable degree, succeeded.
The notable exception on the Democrat side was,
believe it or not, Bill Clinton. Ron Haskins was assertively conservative and Republican. But, on the matter of welfare reform, he was full of praise for Clinton. He had met Clinton before he became president and even then had been impressed by his detailed knowledge of the welfare system. There was only one other governor who knew as much or more. Clinton was also emphatic, regardless of his own sexual history, that people should leave college, get a job, get married and have children in that order.
Most other democrats fought reform bitterly. That Democrat attitude still has not gone. Haskins now works at the Brookings Institution which clearly has a full representation, to put it gently, of Democrats. One day Haskins found, just in time, that one of the images he was going to use for a presentation had been doctored. It was a poster with Bush and Cheney. On it had been put super-imposed message, "We hate poor people".
He said that even Clinton vetoed the reform package twice. Support from Democrats in the House amounted to a mere 17 votes. Then Clinton, at the last moment, decided not to veto the package on the third occasion. Only at this very late stage did the vote among the Democrats increase to about 100.
The achievements of the package so far?
- a 60 per cent reduction in those on welfare rolls
- a massive saving in taxation
- a major reduction 'poverty' as officially measured among lone mothers.
- the rate of unmarried parenting has stopped rising but has not fallen
- black men are no more likely to have a job than previously
- there is little support in the figures for the idea that people can start on a low income job and hope to rise and rise from there.
I suggested, in the question and answer session, that getting people to marry more could be like trying to turn around an oil tanker - it takes time. People who are thinking of having sex, will not pause and say "Oh no, wait a minute. The benefit system has changed. Perhaps I won't after all."
It takes a big cultural shift. That takes place by such things as a younger sister seeing that her older sister is not having such a good life as a lone parent. She is having to drop off her children in the early hours at school or with childminders, then she is rushing to work, then going back to pick up the children and put them to bed. Not great fun. Over time, the younger sister might come to decide - or be advised - that maybe it would be better have children in the context of marriage.
Others in the room were concernd that a large amount of money was being spent on unmarried mothers in the form of child care subsidies that they would not get (?) if they were married. So lone parenting was, perhaps, still being unintentionally encouraged by the state.
Following back a 'site reference' to this website, I came across the following by someone signing him or herself 'darkhorse' on Guardian Unlimited 'The Talk'.
I notice that Bartholomew unquestioningly parrots the comments of Haskins.
It doesn't occur to him that changes in the statistics relating to single parent families and unmarried parents in the US over the 90s are almost certainly down to the fact that the US experienced a recession in the early 90s, followed by the usual economic growth cycle after a recession and the dotcom boom from 96-2000.
Instead, like a starry-eyed evangelist (or propagandist, more likely) he is, he unquestioningly accepts the spurious attribution of this improvement in income to a range of welfare reforms implemented in 96. It's as if he believes nothing else happened in the US in this period except these blessed reforms.
It so happens that Ron Haskins dealt specifically with this line of political counter-attack. Unfortunately I don't have a transcript of his remarks so I cannot authoritatively give chapter and verse. But he showed a chart which, from memory, was of the number of people on welfare benefits over several decades. This showed that periods of strong economic growth in the past have indeed had some effect. But the impact was alway relatively small and quite trivial compared to what has happened since 1996.
Former Welfare Minister Frank Field is pushing for tough action to throw unruly tenants - responsible for social ills including noise, assaults and vandalism - off estates.
And he believes ministers should copy a scheme in Kamper, eastern Holland, where neighbours from hell have been moved into vandal-proof accommodation in steel containers.
Each home has three basic bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom and is supplied with heating, gas, electricity and hot water.
The Dutch scheme was hailed a success and is to be extended nationwide. Mr Field said he would volunteer his constituency of Birkenhead, Merseyside, if ministers wanted to run a pilot scheme here.
And he went on: "They can put them up underneath the motorway flyover. The Labour Party in Holland has stopped messing about on this issue and has got serious.
"We need to be doubly serious about this issue because we are further down the road to anarchy."
The story comes from the Mirror today.
I have been asked to appear on Radio 5 Live between 10.00pm and 10.30pm tonight to discuss Field's idea.
Thersites listened to the Radio 5 Live discussion and makes some remarks on it here.
I was not surprised to be surrounded by people with a Left-wing mind set. But I was mildly encouraged by the way the managing editor of the Observer implicitly acknowledged that this was a serious problem and not just a matter of a few people playing loud music now and again. On the other hand, the 'criminologist' was, indeed, extraordinary. We were all asked by the presenter, Anita Anand, what we would suggest should be done with nightmare neighbours if all else had failed and we did not want Frank Field's steel houses. His answer? We should 'have a debate'.
Below is what has been achieved in America. It could have been done here. But instead of radical reform in welfare, Gordon Brown increased means-testing. There has been some reduction in the value of welfare benefits and some increased incentives to work and even some increased conditionality of benefits. But it has been minor and at the edges.
If Blair had done what Clinton (pushed on by the Republicans) had done in the USA, then we might have had this:
What was the result of the 1996 reforms? By 2003, American welfare case loads had declined by about 60 per cent nationally. The number of families receiving cash welfare is now the lowest it has been since 1971. Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of single mothers in employment grew from 58 per cent to nearly 75 per cent. The sub-group of never-married mothers working grew from 44 per cent to 66 per cent.
Before 1996, never-married mothers were (as in Britain) the most likely to drop out of school, go on welfare, and have long spells on benefits. Yet their employment grew by almost 50 per cent. As with the case-load decline, these changes in employment by low-income single mothers - especially never-married mothers - are without precedent.
The pattern of income for the poorest mother-headed families has shifted dramatically. Earnings have risen by 130 per cent to constitute almost 55 per cent of income, while welfare income fell to about 20 per cent. Rising earnings accompanied by falling welfare is the precise goal of welfare reform.
The bottom line is that female-headed families with children are financially better off. Child poverty fell every year between 1993 and 2000, and among black children reached its lowest level ever. The percentage of families in "deep poverty", defined as half the poverty level, has also declined substantially.
Trends in non-marital births and the composition of American families are less startling, but give grounds for optimism. Our teen birth rate has been declining since the early 1990s and by 2002 reached its lowest ever. And after decades of increases, the non-marital birth rate for women of all ages has roughly stabilised since 1994; among black households, it has actually declined.
The percentage of children living with single mothers has also declined, while the percentage of children living with two adults has increased. Child-support collections have nearly doubled since 1995, and paternity establishment has increased substantially.
So, for the first time since the 1960s, and in contrast to Britain, most of the measures of family structure are either stabilised or moving in the right direction. Given the strong research evidence on the benefit for both children and adults of living in married families, this should have broad impacts, including better school readiness, higher rates of school completion, less delinquency, lower rates of mental health problems, less poverty and further declines in welfare use.
The above is from an article by Ron Haskins in the Telegraph today.
It is clear that the one area that has not shown so much improvement is that of the incidence of marriage. But perhaps that is like turning a tanker around - it takes time. The immediate decision of individuals about whether to marry or not is largely cultural and only partly financial. I believe that over time, the change in the financial effects of marriage or non-marriage will change the culture. But that is probably a long term process.
Beverley Hughes, the children and families minister, told the Guardian last week that there is nothing more the Government can do to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. Her message was "Nothing to do with us. The government offers lots of sex education in schools, but those teenagers keep on having babies. Now it is up to the parents."
She was echoing Tony Blair who, as he bemoaned the lack of respect in British society, said he could not bring up other people's children for them.
So is it really nothing to do with them? Is there nothing they can do about?
Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe at 42.8 conceptions a year for every 1,000 girls under 18. Our teenagers have five times as many babies as Dutch girls, three times as many as the French and twice as many as German frauleins. It seems unlikely that this has nothing to do with the government. There is not something particular about British girls that means they have babies more frequently than girls elsewhere.
Britain is second only to Sweden in Europe in the proportion of women aged 18 to 35 who are lone mothers. Lone mothers are more than four times more common here than in Italy, Portugal, Greece or Spain? It is unlikely that this, too, is nothing to do with government policy.
The very high numbers of teenage pregnancies and lone parent families in Britain have everything to do with the framework created by this government and its predecessors. Britain has not always been a world capital of teenage pregnancy and lone parenting. The rate of lone parenting in Britain was tiny after the second world war and it was only after welfare benefits were increased persistently - particularly for lone parents - that the rate increased. This, in turn, made it more acceptable for teenage girls to let themselves get pregnant without worrying too much if they were married first.
The contrasts between Europe countries are dramatic and revealing. Four countries offer little or no welfare benefits to lone mothers. Those same four countries - Italy, France, Greece and Portugal - are the same ones which have only a tiny percentage of lone mothers. It is true that three of these countries are Catholic. But that is not the deciding factor. Ireland is Catholic yet still has one of the highest rates of lone parenting in Europe. The difference is that Ireland offers relatively substantial welfare benefits to lone parents. Britain and Ireland were found to be the two with the highest benefits for lone parents in a survey of 14 European countries. They were also the countries with the highest proportions of lone mothers.
On this evidence, it seems that welfare benefits have a major impact on the rate of lone parenting. So governments cannot just wash their hands of it. They can and should act.
It is simply not true that there is nothing they can do about it. In 1996, Bill Clinton, in combination with the Republican majority in Congress, made major welfare benefit reforms designed to make benefits-assisted parenting a 'waystation' instead of a 'way of life'. The American government decided not to pay benefits to people for more than five years of their lives. All those on benefits, including women with young children, were required - yes, 'required', not 'encouraged' as in Britain - to seek work.
As a result, fewer young women with children in America are now defined as being 'in poverty'. More of them are working and the upward trend in lone parenting has, for the first time in decades, been arrested and is now beginning to turn down. Teenage parenting has been reduced. Meanwhile in Britain where the rate of births outside marriage was higher in the first place, it is still rising. In reality, the British government knows about this. It knows that governments can make a difference. But what it lack is the guts and the moral determination to do something similar to the USA.
The American government has since gone further and supported the teaching of sexual abstinence in schools. This has helped cause a drop in the pregnancy rate among 10 to 14 year-olds to the lowest rate for 60 years. Here in Britain, in contrast, 'sex education' tends to mean teaching children how to have sex and, implicitly, that it is a perfectly sensible thing for unmarried children to do.
Does all this matter? It is true that it is possible for lone parents and even a teenage lone parents to bring up children well. But it is far more difficult. All the evidence is that lone parenting results, on average, in children who are disadvantaged emotionally and educationally. They are more likely to be poor, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to become delinquents. If Mr Blair really wants a culture of respect, he will have to do something to discourage lone parenting - and thus the rate of teenage pregnancy. He will have to do something very different from the usual. Talking tough and blaming other people won't cut it.
(This research, by Assistant Professor Libertad Gonzalez in Barcelona, is the basis for the assertions made here about benefit levels for lone parent families and the incidence of such families. Please note that when she refers to single parent families she is referring to what, in Britain, we would call 'lone' parent families. The distinction, which I hope I am right in drawing, is that a single parent in British usage is someone who has never been married. A lone parent, which is what Ms Gonzalez is referring to, is a parent who may or may not have been married before but who is now living without a man present. There are all sorts of statistics flying about on the subject of teenage pregnancy, lone parenting, single parenting and so on. The definitions used can make a big difference. I also understand, having spoken to Ms Gonzalez, that her figures for benefits received do not include the value of subsidised housing such as council housing. In Britain, of course, that is one of the biggest parts of the benefits received by many lone parents.)
Messrs Blair and Brown just don't get it. They think good social policy revolves around a bad definition of 'poverty'. They are puzzled by the 'hoodies'.
This from a good article by Fraser Nelson in the Scotsman:
For all the hype about the New Deal, Brown’s economy has specialised in finding alternatives to work for young people. When Labour came to power, 23% of 18-24 years olds were not working: this has risen to now 25%.
And benefit dependency has risen from 6.01m when Labour came to power to 6.58m now. Family disintegration has continued apace: the proportion of births to lone parents is up from 21% in 1996 to 26% today.
Yet in Brown’s eyes, this doesn’t matter: more subsidy is going to the poorest, ergo "inequality" is statistically reduced, ergo things must be okay. Labour is blinded to the second part of Clinton’s equation: poverty is a social phenomenon. Family matters.
This is not moralistic. Research shows a child raised by a lone parent is seven times as likely to fall into poverty, four times as likely to be expelled from school, three times as likely to become dependant on welfare and twice as likely to go to prison.
These dynamics do not hold for upper income groups, where a single parent usually has the resources (and family support) to give a child a loving, stable background. It is among the poorest families that marriage makes the most difference.
The number of babies born out of wedlock has reached its highest recorded level, according to official figures published yesterday....
A total of 42.2 per cent of births took place outside wedlock last year, up from 41.4 per cent in 2003 and an increase of nearly 10 per cent since 1994 when the figure stood at 32.4 per cent.
What is remarkable about this news item in the Daily Telegraph yesterday is that it was a small down-page story with no comment or even quoting anyone being disturbed by it. Yet it, to those who have looked at the effect of unmarried parenting on the children, the most worrying item of news in the paper.
A good, to-the-point posting on the Civitas blog about Tony Blair bemoaning the lack of respect in modern society.
The NHS is the world's third-largest employer with a million people on its books, second only to the Chinese Army and Indian railways. We spend some £80 billion a year on the NHS, equating to £1,400 annually for every man, woman and child. Despite this the number of NHS beds in England has halved in the past 25 years.
The average British woman will have 2.2 healthy pregnancies in her lifetime - almost enough to keep the UK population stable - but will give birth to only 1.7 children. The difference is accounted for by the number of abortions.
The number of people working in the public sector has increased by 10 per cent since 1998, accounting for some half a million of the new jobs created since Labour came to power.
Total public sector employment in 5.29 million, up from 4.71 million in 1997.
In 1981, 600,000 people claimed incapacity benefit. Now it is 2.2 million.
The greatest increases in recorded crime since 1997 have been in drug offences (509 per cent) and violence against the person (281 per cent) and there has been a drop in burglaries by nearly a fifth.
More than half the households in Britain have less than £1,500 in savings, and a quarter have no savings at all.
Teenage birth rates in Britain are twice as high as in Germany, and five times as high as in Holland.
150,000 children are educated at home, and the figure is rising. Bullying, harrassment and religion are the reasons most cited by parents for taking their children out of school.
From Britain in Numbers published by Politico's and serialised in today's Daily Mail.
This is a sobering illustration of the decline in civility in Britain. A vicar near Rochdale has been forced to hold services at his home because youths have so disrupted his services and intimidated his congregation, many of whom are elderly.
Yesterday I visited the Greater Miami Academy, a private Adventist school with 175 children in the elementary part and 165 in the Academy (grades 9 to 12).
The school takes part in a programme called 'Florida Pride' which is intended to help poorer families send their children to a private school.
Fifty children in the elementary school are on 'Florida Pride' scholarships and 23 in the Academy. The subsidy is worth $3,500 a year and comes out of money that would otherwise have been paid by companies to the government in tax.
The parents have to make up the difference between that money and the fees of US$4,000 in the elementary school and US$5,500 in the Academy. (Incidentally, the subsidy given by the church is bigger than that from taxpayers, since the cost of giving a child a place is actually US$11,000.)
I asked to talk to some of the students on the programme. In trooped four girls in 9th grade, aged about 15 or 16.
I asked why their parents had gone to the trouble and expense of applying to get them onto the Florida Pride programme instead of staying at a public (local government) school. The first, Denise, said that students in the public school she previously attended brought in weapons...guns. I asked if they waved around the guns, had them in holsters or what? She said they would have them and then show them.
Yahaira said that students at public school 'get drugged'. She said it was 'more challenging here' academically. There are small classes in the Academy - often 14 or 15 - whereas in the public school there were classes of 30.
Elisabeth said about public school, "you see guns, you see knives".
Geniver said in the public school there were "a lot of drugs. I told my mom. She sent me here". She said she was getting higher grades here and learning a lot more.
Elisabeth added that when she was at the public school, she expected to go to a "medium" college (university) but here she could expect to go somewhere like Columbia.
I asked how they expected their lives might be different now compared to what they would have been if they had stayed at their public schools.
Yahaira said that many at the pbulic school dropped out, got into drugs or got pregnant. She added that in the private school, "We're like in a little bubble. We're not into that stuff."
Denise said, "If I had stayed at public school, I would be a completely different person. There were so many temptations.
They made reference every now and again to God. I asked them what their favourite subjects were. Denise said the Bible. Elisabeth and Geniver said health (which is a subject including venereal disease, sex, drugs and nutrition) and Yahaira said gym.
When they were explaining why their parents had sent them to the Greater Miami Academy, it was noticeable that they kept on using the words 'safe' and 'safety'.
There is enormous opposition to the policy of school choice which has been promoted by the Governor, Jeb Bush. But when you meet girls whose lives do appear to have been significantly improved, such opposition seems strange, if not cruel.
My two daughters were discussing divorce and separation among the parents of the children they know at their school. I asked them how many children at school could they think of whose parents were divorced. After consideration, they came up with four. That is probably out of about 25 children who my older daughter knows well in year six, say another 10 in year five, perhaps another 30 in year three (where my younger daughter is) and another 20 in other years. So a total of about 85. It is, of course, possible that there are some divorced parents they did not know about. But it seems probably that not much more than five per cent of the children have divorced or separated parents.
What has this got to do with the welfare state?
One of the claims I make in The Welfare State We're In is that the welfare state has reduced the natural incentives for married couples to stay together.
I attempt to substantiate this by citing figures suggesting that divorce and separation is far more common among the poor - the ones most affection by welfare benefits - than among the rich - who are not entitled to most benefits and therefore are not influenced by them.
One of the difficulties I encountered was that the research tended to be pretty old. This is one of several things that the government does not measure because, one suspects, it does not want to know the answer.
The low divorce rate among the relatively rich parents at my daughters' private school does not constitute heavyweight, serious evidence such as I would quote in a book. But it is nonetheless supportive, anecdotal evidence that the rich don't divorce as much as the poor. The poor are the ones whose judgements have been interfered with by the welfare state. Their children are the ones who suffer most from 'broken parenting'.
New ground was broken in British incivility on Saturday at a premiership football game.
How it came to happen:
An investigation by either the FA or Newcastle may also establish why frustration over a non-pass late in a game already lost generated such an extreme action, principally from Bowyer.
Any existing tension between the England internationals had not manifested itself previously, though there was a minor disagreement over a non-pass from Dyer in the first half of this match. Bowyer made his feelings known then and would use statistics showing Dyer made 36 passes on Saturday with only one going to Bowyer, to illustrate a pattern.
When the same thing happened in the 82nd minute Bowyer began haranguing Dyer. As the two converged Dyer stood his ground and Bowyer led with the forehead, then started punching.
That is from the Guardian, today.
How the incident breaks new ground in British incivility. Remember, these two players were on the same tearm. This is a quote from the manager of the club, Souness,
'It's a first for me. I have never witnessed that before. Harsh words between players occur in every game, but it's very unusual for it to lead to what happened today. 'There are always arguments on the training pitch when players stand up to each other, but that's as far as it goes. This is something completely new to me.'That report from the Observer on Sunday.
Football provides a metaphor for how civility in Britain has dramatically declined over the past century. See chapter one of The Welfare State We're In for statistics showing the astonishing rise in the number of sendings off over that period. The chapter also makes in clear that a player with an appalling record such as Lee Bowyer's would have been banned for the game for life by now if he had been playing in the 1950s.
Norman Dennis' posting on crime levels in London was written last December, but it is a useful aide-memoire in the run-up to an election when the Government is likely to be trying to get away with absurd boasts about its record on crime. I particularly liked this section:
Perhaps the most distasteful bit of responsibility-shedding by the Home Office has been the line that the fear of crime is as much the problem as the fact of crime. It's the populist and hysterical tabloids, stupid. It's the nervous old biddies, stupid.
The fact is that the totally reasonable fear of crime has undoubtedly been one of the main factors in preventing the crime figures being even worse.
The enormous rise in burglaries has been restrained by people making their homes into fortresses. Old people are mugged less than young people because they do not venture out into public spaces at night. Cars have been rendered much more difficult to steal than they were ten years ago.
The whole posting is here.
Why did crime rates fall so dramatically during Victoria's reign? Why is the fact that crime fell so little known? And why do some very clever and well-educated people decline to believe it?
The fall in crime in the second half of the 19th century is an astonishing, little-known story throws light on how government welfare policy may influence crime levels ('the causes of crime'). Crime levels, in turn, probably reflect more general standards of behaviour.
Here is an excerpt from Dr Jose Harris's excellent Public Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914 which gives us some of the facts from which to start:
One of the most striking features of British society betweeen the 1860s and the First World War was its continually diminishing rate of recorded crime - a phenomenon that was historically quite unusual by comparison with both earlier and later periods in British society and with the experience of other industrialising societies in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In spite of increasing concentration on imprisonment as the sole form of punishment for serious crime, the prison population in all parts of the United Kingdom was proportionally much smaller in 1914 than it had been in the 1860s, while sentences for penal servitude were one-fifth of the level of fifty years before. Recorded crime and conviction rates are clearly a somewhat elastic measure of actual criminal behaviour, and public definitions of what constituted 'crime' were no less fluid in this epoch than in any other. But as legislators thoughout the period were constantly extending the boundaries of crime and as police were increasingly active in its apprehension, it seems scarcely credible that falling crime rates can be ascribed to mere transient social perceptions.
This point could be demonstrated much more forcefully than I have space for here; but the point should be made that a very high proportion of Edwardian convicts were in prison for offences that would have been much more lightly treated or wholly disregarded by law enforcers in the late twentieth century. In 1912-13, for example, one quarter of males aged 16 to 21 who were imprisoned in the metropolitan area of London were serving seven-day sentences for offences which included drunkenness, 'playing games in the street; riding a bicycle without lights, gaming, obscene language, and sleeping rough. If late twentieth century standards of policing and sentencing had been applied in Edwardian Britain, then prisons would have been virtually empty; conversely, if Edwardian standards were applied in the 1990s then most of the youth of Britain would be in gaol.
...The early Victorian period had been wracked by very high levels of theft, homicide, violence, and public disorder. Public discussion of crime in the 1840s had fequently assumed that it was widely endemic among the working population, and indeed that the categories of criminal, pauper and labouring poor, if not absolutely identical, were part of an interlocking social continuum. Crime rates began to fall, however, in the 1850s and 1860s, and plummeted after 1870.
Homicides, woundings and non-violent crimes against property reported to the police fell by more than half between 1870 and 1914. Juvenile crime was high in the 1870s but fell rapidly thereafter. Offences linked with drunkenness were high in the 1870s and 1880s, but then fell continuously down to the outbreak of the First World War. Theft from places of employment was still widespread in 1914, but on a far smaller scale than forty years earlier. Physical attacks on policemen remained common and were part of everyday street culture in many poor areas; but even so the overall rate of recorded asssault on the police declined by nearly two-thirds over the whole period. Large areas of London and other large cities that in the 1850s had been the soverign republic of armed gang-land had been converted by the 1900s into peaceful and well-patrolled, if not necessarily honest and affluent, suburbs. Only the relatively small categories of burglary and robbery with violence went against the general trend by rising sharply in the last few years of the period, a phenonomon which was widely interpreted by contemporaries to mean, not that popular honesty was once again on the wane, but that seious crime was now confined to a small class of professional criminals. A prominent police criminolgist, Dr Robert Anderson, argued in 1901 that crime in Britain could be permanently abolished within a decade if seventy habitual criminals known to the police could simpy be locked up for life and separated from all contact with the rest of the community.
...The endemic popular disorder and disruptions of the peace that prevaled in many areas in the 1840s had markedly declined by the 1870s and had almost vanished by the 1900s.
...The scenes of drunken violence common to all classes, that had accompanied sporting events such as Derby Day in the 1850s and 1860s, had been replaced in the 1900s by sober and self-disciplined gatherings such as the Cup Final and Lord Mayor's Show, where crowds of more than a hundred thousand were shepherded by a mere handful of uniformed constables (many of whom were weekend 'specials'). The new sense of order was symbolised by the Great London Dock Strike of 1889, when tens of thousands of banner-bearing workers marched through the streets of London 'giving the appearance of a great church parade', and twelve thousand pickets gave rise to only twenty arrests. An international survey of prostitution published in 1914 found that for safety, decorum and public order London resembled a gigantic 'open air cathedral', in stark comparison both with the other capital cities of Europe and with London itself some forty years before.
The reduction in crime in Britain was all the more astonishing because, at this time the ideas of Marx, Engels and others of a similar sort were spreading. There had been massive change and rapid urbanisation - all factors which might be expected to increase the level of crime.
Dr Harris goes through some possible explanations for this fall in crime which have been offered up by various people:
1. The growth and increasing efficiency of police forces.
2. The trend towards the physical segregation of property from poverty.
3. The priority given to the protection of property by other institutions in addition to the police.
4. Increased social integration of the working clas through education, religion, charitable exhortation and 'rational recreation'.
5. Rising working class prosperity.
She goes through each idea, giving reasons why she is not convinced. She then suggests "the dimunition of crime neeeds to be set in the context of a changing social and political culture, to discover whether declining crime, expanding citizenship, widespread participation in voluntary institutions and the growth of popular politics were unrelated movements or different facets of a complex but homogenous social trend."
She refers to the "growing sector of the working class who were organised in independent, self-governing associations." She remarks that "the vast majority of independent working-class associations - trade unions, friendly societies, and working-mens's clubs - were..extremely extremely severe on breaches of the law, and frequently expelled or prosecuted members found guilty of fraud or dishonesty.
She concludes, "It seems intuitively probably that many of the most prominent characteristics of mainstream working-class life in this period - community solidarity, parental authority, family integration, and mass membership of a wide range of self-governing associations - were at least as important as deterrence, police, and upper-class paternalism in explain popular acceptance of the law and the apparent diminution and marginalisation of crime in nearly all sections of British society."
It is encouraging (to me) that a specialist in the study of Victorian society should have come to this conclusion. It not exactly the same as my own idea. But it is in a similar vein. My own suggestion, as argued in The Welfare State We're In, is that that the radical toughening up of the conditionality of welfare benefits in 1834, forced individuals, families and communities to take responsibility for themselves. They were obliged to act more responsibly to make their way in the world. They were strongly incentivised to create and join friendly societies, mutual societies and trade unions. These further encouraged a sense of mutual responsibility. Meanwhile there was increased reason to avoid having children outside marriage. The illegitimacy rate fell, with consequent benefits to the children who grew up in circumstance which were less likely to lead them into crime. In short, in 1834, Britain faced up to its welfare problem, acted powerfully and the benefits came through over the following 80 years. (For more on this, see Chapter 2: "Social Security: Catherine's four dead boys and Frank's bingo blow-out")
Why is the extraordinary fall in crime in the Victorian era so little known about? To put in bluntly, because the victors write the history books. The victors in this case are those who have believed in the welfare state. They got their way. They created a massively enlarged welfare state. It does not suit them to report how things got a great deal better in the 19th century after a reduction in the scope of the welfare state.
Why do some very clever and well-educated people decline to believe that crime fell dramatically and to low levels? Because they have had no choice but to read the history written by the victors.
(This is a history, incidentally, in which Dickens is widely quoted as a source for actual conditions in the late 19th century. This practice is, of course good fun and very easy. But it is inappropriate since, in the first place Dickens was a melodramatist (as in Nicholas Nickleby) and in the second - as has been well documented - he was writing about the first half of the century. The use of Dickens as a teaching aid about the late 19th century is as misleading as it was when the Soviet Union used Dickens to inform its people about conditions in 20th century Britain.)
From Instructions to American Servicemen in Britain, 1942:
The British are tough. Don't be misled by the British tendency to be soft-spoken and polite.
They are not given to back-slapping and they are shy about showing their affections. But once they get to like you they make the best friends in the world.
The Briton...is... the most lawabiding citizen in the world, because the British system of justice is just about the best there is. There are fewer murders, robberies, and burglaries in the whole of Great Britain in a year than in a single large American city.
You will find that English crowds at football or cricket matches are more orderly and polite to the players than American crowds. If a fielder misses a catch at cricket, the crowd will probably take a sympathetic attitude. They will shout 'good try' even if it looks to you like a bad fumble. In America the crowd would probably shout 'take him out'.
They are good sportsmen and are quick to recognise good sportsmanship wherever they meet it.
It isn't a good idea to say 'bloody' in mixed company in Britain - it is one of their worst swear words.
The British dislike bragging and showing off.
In peace or war, 'God Save The King' (to the same tune as our 'America') is played at the conclusion of all public gatherings such as theater performances. The British consider it bad form not to stand at attention, even if it means missing the last bus. If you are in a hurry, leave before the national anthem is played. That's considered alright.
On the whole, British people... are open and honest. If you are on furlough and puzzled about directions, money, or customs, most people will be anxious to help you as long as you speak first and without bluster. The best authority on all problems is the nearest 'bobby' (policeman) in his steel helmet. British police are proud of being able to answer almost any question under the sun. They're not in a hurry and they'll take plenty of time to talk to you.
I quote these excerpts because they add to the evidence in The Welfare State We're In that the British used to be regarded as particularly civilised people (something which is no longer the case).
The system of justice in Britain may, indeed, have contributed to the low crime rate in the early 1940s. So, too, the policing. But I believe that far more important than either was the fact that British people felt natural pressure in their everyday lives to be decent people. Hard work and a good reputation helped people to get jobs and spouses, for example. This was only beginning to be undermined by the welfare state in 1942.
Methods of policing have certainly deteriorated since 1945. It is rare indeed to see a 'bobby' on his own these days. Presumably the justification for this is that they are less likely to be attacked if there are two of them, and more able to defend themselves. But I suspect the 'producer interest' here. The police simply find it more pleasant to walk around with someone to chat to, regardless of the public interest. Even in the leafiest, richest, safest parts of Kensington, where the chances of an attack must be remote, I have seen them in pairs.
There are two major drawbacks to this kind of policing. First, only half the streets are covered that might have been covered. Second, the officers tend to talk to each other and not the public. A couple of police officers together is far less approachable than one by him or herself.
Instructions to American Servicemen in Britain, 1942 was re-published by the Bodliean Library in 1994. It can be bought by clicking on any of the links to Amazon and searching for the title.
James Hamilton, a psychotherapist, recently interviewed me for his blog. This is an excerpt:
Do you feel that the protective conservative virtues and values, have been repressed by state intervention?What do you think of Theodore Dalrymple's assertion that it was the middle-class abandonment of traditional values that led to a similar abandonment by the working classes whom those values had most urgently protected in the past?
The circumstances in which we are brought up and live determine which parts of our nature will come to the fore. I used to enjoy telling my father - a classic 'English gentleman' - that if he had been born as one of the ravaging hordes of Attila the Hun, he would have murdered, raped and robbed without hesitation. He was amusingly discomfitted by the idea and tried to deny it.
But if we are brought up, say, where it is normal to be a member of a Friendly Society (as it was at the beginning of the 20th century) which offers help to us in times of need and requires to help others when they are in need, if we are bought up in a family in which mutual help is expected, all this and more brings out different parts of our nature than if we are raised in, say, a vandalised council estate where a large number of people are on state benefits and not working.
In the former, there are various pressures to be what we regard as 'virtuous'. There is peer pressure. There is the pressure of knowing that we will be helped only because of the deal whereby help we must help others. In the benefit-dependent estate, on the other hand, the need for mutual help has been taken away by the state. The people are put in the position where they are perennial takers. That develops a different attitude. This is just a part of the way in which, I believe, the welfare state has changed the the nature of British people.
I admire Theodore Dalrymple's writings enormously. However I disagree with the idea that the the lower classes have somehow followed the example of the upper classes in living in a less virtuous way. There is far more divorce and separation among the poor than among the rich. In this, as in other things, the poor have not copied the rich. They have developed different habits. Benefits dependency, the drastic reduction in incentives to save and to marry and many other changes have strongly affected the poor. They have been changed, not by a bad example, but by bad laws and, in particular, the welfare state. The welfare state has profoundly changed the circumstances of the poor.
Through this, not example, the character of the poor has been changed.
What are your views on the role of popular culture in the decline of civility? It is a theme of Nick Hornby's novels (High Fidelity, About A Boy) that pop culture can have the effect of trapping people in an extended, damaging adolescence. In the absence of the Welfare State, would civility have survived pop culture?
I find this idea wholly unconvincing. Pop music and words come out of the culture. They do not create it. It is true that in reflecting a culture, popular music re-inforces it. If you have obscenities from Eminem, then people will be influenced. But first you have to create Eminem - the culture in which he develops and becomes successful.
Popular music has been around for centuries, indeed millenia. The idea that popular music has a life of its own and goes around creating cultures is incredible. We did not move from "I give to you as you give to me" (part of a Bing Crosby song) and "Get yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again" (part of a Fred Astaire song) to "F***, you, Debbie, Debbie, f**** you!" (Eminem referring to his mother) by some sort of arbitrary, self-creating vagary of the history of popular music. The change in the music grew out of the change in the culture. That, in turn, was changed by the creation of the welfare state which so profoundly changed the circumstances in which most people live.
For the complete interview, go to the March 4th posting on James Hamilton's website which should be here.