Consultation on today's social evils reveals deep unease about greed, individualism and decline of community

20 April 2008

People feel a deep sense of unease about some of the changes shaping British society. This is according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's (JRF) consultation on modern-day social evils, released today (20 April). Respondents said that they felt our society has become more greedy and selfish, at a cost to our sense of community. They said that we no longer share a set of common values and that we have lost our 'moral compass'.

Over 100 years after Joseph Rowntree named his evils as poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling, the JRF held a consultation to find out what people thought were today's social evils. More than 3,500 people contributed to the consultation, which took place between July and September last year. We spoke to a wide range of people, from opinion-formers to people whose voices are not normally heard.

The JRF found people are concerned about how we seem to live our lives. Individualism, greed, a decline of community and a decline of values were among the social evils that worried them the most. One participant said: "Everything seems to be based around money and owning things. The more you have, the more successful you are. There's nothing wrong with having enough, but there's pressure on people to go for more and more."

In addition to these concerns, people identified more concrete social evils, some of which were identified by Joseph Rowntree, although they have taken on new forms:

  • Drugs and alcohol: misuse of drugs and alcohol was seen as the consequence and cause of many other social problems, such as family breakdown and poverty.
  • Poverty and inequality: poverty was viewed as a corrosive social evil in an affluent society, underpinning other social problems like homelessness and family breakdown. One participant said: "If you're poor, you're struggling all the time – you have no choices in life. That's what poverty does to you, it gives you no choice."

There were also some new social evils not identified by Joseph Rowntree:

  • The decline of the family: family breakdown and poor parenting were felt to cause many other social problems and leave young people particularly vulnerable.
  • Immigration and responses to immigration: some participants felt that local residents lose out to immigrants in competition for scarce resources. Others criticised negative attitudes to, and lack of support for, immigrants and thought society should be more tolerant and inclusive.
  • Crime and violence: people felt that Britain is more dangerous and violent than in the past. Child abuse and exploitation were highlighted as particularly damaging evils.
  • Young people as victims or perpetrators: young people were seen by some as perpetrators of social evils like anti-social behaviour, or by others as the victims of stereotypes and limited opportunities. One participant said: "I noticed there was a bunch of youths standing around and my immediate reaction was to stop and think 'Oh my goodness, shall I go the other way?' Two seconds later I realised it was my own son and his friends. But that reaction was in me already."

Julia Unwin, Director of the JRF, said: "This consultation will help the Foundation to further Joseph Rowntree's mission: to search, demonstrate and influence by undertaking programmes of work on key social policy issues, and through our practical housing and care work. As well as helping to inform our own work, we hope that the views expressed will influence the work of other organisations seeking to address social ills."

More information, and the opportunity to share views, is available at www.socialevils.org.uk

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