Saturday, 23 January 2010

Broken Society?

Part of me agrees with David Cameron, leader of the opposition. I've worked in Edlington, evaluating a police-run project to improve community safety in (particularly) deprived parts of South Yorkshire. Then, as now, these areas had high indices of social and economic deprivation. Yes, there are single-parent families, blended families, families blighted by the ruin of alcoholism, families stuck in a cycle of poor education. Parents who cannot, or will not, parent their children. Parents on state benefits or earning a low income, clueless as to how to feed their children healthily, let alone set an example of how to behave in society. I can see how a politician would label society or family life in regions like this as 'broken'.

But they haven't been undone by the last decade alone. South Yorkshire is a region latterly associated with tradition, family, a strong work ethic, fellowship and support. Whatever the influences of the 21st century, the breakdown in communities Cameron has observed doesn't have its roots there. What we see in South Yorkshire is something I see all around me in Nottinghamshire ex-mining communities. For much of the 20th century, England was reliant on the Yorkshire coalfields; the region also had a thriving steel industry. By the 1990s, thanks largely to Conservative party policies, local industry had run down and the pits had closed. Faced with high unemployment, loss of self-esteem and a lack of focus, community and family breakdown occurred; many adults turned to alcohol and drug abuse, unable to look after themselves, let alone their families. It's understandable how anti-social behaviour became rife.

Attempts have been made to regenerate the South Yorkshire area. The European Social Fund pours money in, there are lottery grants, community development grants. I've met good people, doing great work to restore, educate and promote the area. Communities are pulling together. But it's difficult to restore the hope in places like this. It's difficult to break the cycle. Although (I hope & pray) not everyone would inflict such terrible violence on others, I don't think that the general behaviours of the two boys in Edlington are isolated. The left-wing lays the blame at specific family circumstances and the failure of social services. I'm not sure I agree. Having observed, through work, families in various deprived parts of the country, I know that, as Cameron suggests, there are plenty of similar families who can't get it together and require intervention before the children's behaviour escalates to an unacceptable level.

Yet - they are at least partly victims of the Conservative party's legacy. So what on earth does David Cameron think he can do to save them that others haven't?

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