Social breakdown and economic breakdown- what to do about Breakdown Britain
I was invited to a meeting to discuss anti social behaviour in my constituency yesterday, sharing a platform with a local GP, an Inspector of Police and a charity worker specialising in tackling the problems of disaffected youth. I said something along the following lines:
â€œ Most of you in this hall today are used to getting up at a reasonable hour in the morning, washing and dressing, shaving or putting on the make up, and going out to make your contribution to our community life. Some go to work, as teachers or police, some to sell us goods in the shops or to make us things in the factories. Some retired people go out to lead local community clubs and activities, to run our charities and voluntary organisations. You have a sense of purpose and wish to live within the law.
“I was asked by David Cameron to produce an analysis of how we could make things better for all who wish to make their own way in the world, and want to contribute to our economy or voluntary activities. That work is now being adapted to manage the crisis in our economy that the Credit Crunch and its aftermath represents.
“My colleague, Iain Duncan Smith was asked to produce a report into Breakdown Britain. His task was the more difficult one of recommending how we tackle the problems of that other Britain. It is peopled by those who have no reason to get up in the morning and smarten themselves up, by people who are depressed, angry, lonely or out of sorts with the world around them. That other Britain throngs with drug peddlers and drug users, with the unemployed and the mentally ill, with those who failed at school and fear they will fail at most other things. It is full of people who cannot accept the rules of how the rest of us live, who see them as at best an irrelevance and at worst a tyranny they must break. Our prisons are full of the sad and the mad as well as the bad.
“Iain not only harnessed the talents and ideas of the many to write his analysis and proscription. He also plunged himself into the world of social entrepreneurship to gain first hand experience of ways of stretching out a helping hand to those down on their luck and to those who think the best thing in life is to look for trouble in gangs or idle time away on street corners. If there is one overriding conclusion from Iainâ€™s patient work, it is that there is no top down answer government can impose or buy. He concluded that in the broken communities of Britain many of the dispossessed young need adults who will take time to cross the street to help, inspire or comfort before it is too late and they need the penitentiary. He recommended relying more on a renaissance of social entrepreneurship, letting a thousand flowers bloom in the unpromising concrete fields of our inner cities.
“Here in Wokingham we are blessed with fewer of these problems than you would encounter thirty five miles down the road in parts of inner London. But no community is free from drug abuse, drop-outs, mental illness, violent crime and casual damage to property. Here we have seen violent and casual knife crime, and syringes in childrenâ€™s play areas. My message today is that all of us adults have a part to play â€“ some small, some larger â€“ in putting more of this right. Families can inspire and discipline, motivate and reprove. Where they can they should be encouraged to do so. Where parents are too busy to offer the love and time it takes, or where the families have been ruptured and the adults are themselves prisoners of emotional poverty, other adults from the local community need to be around to help. It is not financial poverty that does most damage. Some poor families make up in love and concern what they lack in cash, and some rich families may shower goods on their children for lack of time to do what matters more, to take an interest.Some will help by running voluntary organisations, organising sports, and by setting up social enterprise companies and not for profit bodies. Others will make their contribution through their excellence as school teachers, vicars, policemen and women and care workers. There has been tension and difficulty in talking between the generations from time immemorial. That should not stop us seeking to improve the dialogue of the generations. We, the generation in power, need to tell those who follow us what we are trying to do and how we are seeking to do it. The generation that follows will judge us, write our epitaphs and decide what to keep and what to ditch. The coming generation needs to tell us what they want from their future and how they see what we are striving to do whilst there is still time to modify or complete it.
“If there were a few silver bullets that government could fire to solve the problem this government or its predecessor would have done so. There is no party dispute over the need to mend our fractured society, and what disputes there are over means amount to very little. The truth is political parties have come to recognise it is not primarily a problem for new legislation or better benefit rules. It is a problem for all of us, to offer some leadership and to offer some inspiration to young people before it is too late and they have settled into a life of crime and futility.â€