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Monday, 29 January, 2001, 12:34 GMT
Is Britain in moral decline?

Richard Taylor, father of the murdered Peckham schoolboy Damilola, says Britain is suffering a moral decline.

He is angry at the "wall of silence" after his son's murder, and blames the murder and the failure to find the attackers on falling family values and morals.

Richard Taylor says he wants the UK to be morally regenerated in memory of his ten year old son.

Do you agree that the tragedy of Damilola Taylor's death shows Britain is suffering a moral decline?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

It is futile thinking of solutions when our main concern of the day is the contents of a pop star's suitcase

Anna M, UK
I'm not sure where Mr John Brownlee lives, but it certainly isn't in England - unless of course he lives in Surrey. All I can say is that if we're currently living in the "Golden Age", I weep for those who are going to have to live in its decline! Our society may not have been much better in the past but the difference is that with our technological advancements and the experience we have gathered throughout our history we have the opportunity of making a better society. The tragedy is that after all we could have learnt from our ancestors, our society is morally worse than it has been for many years.

Our personal greed now distracts us from any social goals or any desire to make our environment better. We cannot possibly survive as a community without a strong moral framework and the madness is that it is all a simple matter of education. But we are on self-destruct mode - si it is futile thinking of solutions when our main concern of the day is the contents of a popstar's suitcase.
Anna M, UK

What rubbish. Go to an old people's home and listen to the racism, homophobia, and the stories of how domestic violence went unmentioned or child abuse was kept quiet. People wrongly interpret scandals and statistics as a sign that society is crumbling. In fact, that it is being noticed is proof of how things are improving.

Despite quite a lot of sound views here (except the death penalty) about the dire state of discipline and morals among the young generation, the situation will continue to deteriorate. Political correctness and "rights" are a two-sided affair which will eventually bring more problems than it will solve. Freedom, toleration and individualism can co-exist with a rigid system and a sound moral code. I call for compassion and duty to others rather than political correctness and self-interest. Those that think that now is a "golden age" are very deluded.

I'd just like all of you who don't think liberal government has a big part to play, to think just for a moment of some of the horrendously worse problems that the far more conservative USA faces - with guns in the classroom and gang warfare on the streets. Then look at Holland or Denmark, some of the most liberal countries in the west, do they have nearly as many of the problems that we, a somewhat-in-the middle country has?
James Pittman, England

I feel that the fact that homeless people exist is immoral. I feel that parents struggling financially to raise a child on less than 10,000 is immoral (whilst there are people commanding salaries of 4000 a month). I feel that people being paid less than 9,000 a year to look after people with disabilities whilst others get paid 20,000 onwards to work with a computer is immoral. Yes, it is all about the money and when children realise the whole hypocrisy of their adulthood to come - is it a wonder that they stop caring?
Catherine P, England

We live in a country where there is no respect for tradition, for morality, for our elders and to be fair for anyone. Its sickening to watch, but it is happening, a blind eye is turned to people taking drugs, we let our schools slip into a disgraceful state and attack those that try or continue to excel. I'm sure the same will happen again and again and no doubt every day lives are lost, not necessarily in the tragic circumstances that surrounded Damilola's passing, but in many other ways, maybe because of drugs, or no desire to achieve at school or a simple lack of respect for anyone.
Tomasz Domanski, UK

There are many good, moral people in Great Britain, and I emphasise the word Great. The problem over the past twenty to thirty years is that we have become too tolerant to the people that do wrong in our society. What deterrent does our justice system pose to the modern criminal? If the killers of Damilola are caught and found guilty what sentence will they face? If they are under the age of "responsibility" will they too be given a safe, comfortable (if not luxurious) upbringing at the expense of the state, a la the Bulger case, until they have paid their pitiful due of less than 8 years.
Jim Bolton, England

To "Jon, UK". The social stigma associated with unmarried parents goes a long way towards preserving the bonds of society. When it is considered "normal" to be expecting a child and not even know who the father is, where is the security the child requires? Where are the role models? Where is the hand of loving discipline? The public lashings may be draconian but these yobs must be brought to book - it is high time we stopped pandering to the liberals and the "lifestyle choice" brigade and started expecting a little bit of civic duty from people. I'm not sure I would go as far as John B's comment about the death penalty, but laws must be enforced, and seen to be enforced.
John S, UK

Stacey UK is right to say that Thatcher was anything but liberal. I'm not against her views on policing, for example. But her "I'm alright Jack" attitude was appalling - those people who weren't alright, for whatever reason, became more and more excluded - socially, financially, and morally. How could this be good for the collective morals of the population?
Richard, UK

A nation sandwiched between the hangover of a history of an empire where sun never set and modern day-to-day realities is sure to go through a phase of moral decline for a while.
Agha Ata, USA

The concept of freedom without responsibility must be challenged

Social liberalism has removed many of the roots which used to exist in society and has created many evils to replace those it was designed to remove. Add the aspect of Thatcherism which denied the concept of society and you have the ingredients for a country where an underclass with low standards of self-discipline and very poor self-worth have been detached from a middle-class that is relatively affluent.

The key to reversing the situation is to diminish our tolerance of selfish, anti-social, and violent behaviour and the promotion of self-discipline which must start with applied discipline in childhood.

Similarly, the concept of freedom without responsibility must be challenged. If a woman wants to have a child without first securing a husband then she must be free to do so. But she must also take on the responsibility for raising that child without assistance from the State.

Haven't people from every country at every time in history thought they were in moral decline?
David, USA

People are still people - just as moral as they ever were

William, UK
I disagree. I think people are just as moral as they always have been, but now it is easier to believe otherwise. With new technology, information, less religion and more liberal attitude people can do what they like without fearing the consequences. Before people would have lived a boring life without experiencing it because they were fearful of the consequences of being who they are. Now, I do agree that there is less value in society. Everything is replaceable so it often seems like there is no point in saving it. Just buy another. But people are still people. Just as moral as they ever were. They just don't know how to react to a society without value.
William, UK

I'd just like all of you who you don't think liberal government has a big part to play, to think just for a moment of some of the horrendously worse problems that the far more conservative USA faces - guns in the classroom and gang warfare on the streets. Then look at Holland or Denmark, some of the most liberal countries in the west, do they have nearly as many of the problems that we, a somewhat-in-the middle country has?
James Pittman, England

Middle aged adults blame young people, when really they have only themselves to blame

Antony De Meo, UK
The moral decline in this country cannot be blamed on politicians, police or young people but really stems from the irresponsible and liberal young adults of the 60s and 70s who were only concerned about their own immoral activities. Today we are paying the price. Broken homes, child abuse and neglect are the result of parents who themselves have even lower values than their own children. I am sick of hearing middle aged adults blame young people, when really they have only themselves to blame.
Antony De Meo, UK

For those of us who have lived long enough, it's self-evident. 50 to 60 years ago, there was no widespread bullying, truancy, foul language, violence, attention-deficit disorder, insolence, disordered classes or any of the other behavioural problems that plague schools and urban society today.

This during a time when there were few teachers, no teacher's aids, no school administrative staff, hardly any fathers at home, little money, few toys, no candy, and travel achieved only by bike or bus. Going to a football match with the other 30 to 50 thousand supporters was a pastime that could be enjoyed with safety and freedom of movement. Yes, morals have been declining steadily for 40 years but those who have allowed themselves to be elected the nations leaders have been steadfast in their refusal to replace bankrupt ideologies with old-fashioned common sense.
David in Calgary, Canada

The moral decline in Britain is a direct result of a more liberal attitude towards pretty much everything

Stacey, UK
Richard, UK appears to suggest that Thatcher's era brought about a society in which we all feel that we can do what we like, regardless of the consequences. This, I find difficult to comprehend because what he has described is the epitome of liberalism - and I think we can all safely say that Thatcher was anything but a liberal. If anything, the moral decline in Britain is a direct result of a more liberal attitude towards pretty much everything. I feel that Richard is misguided to think that Thatcher is responsible for this.
Stacey, UK

I am English and practised social work for 25 years in the UK before leaving and living abroad for the past ten years. Yes, I fear decline is apparent and it has been in such a way for many years now. I fear that liberalism in schools went just too far. Then Thatcherism reared its head and caused many to become insular and selfish. Where my family and I now live they call it 'Third World' which I do not particularly agree with. If Britain was only to take a lead from this country's attitude toward children and families and the respect that is nurtured around the family and other adults in general, they would not go far wrong.
Graham Peveller, Thailand.

Our country has sadly lost its self-respect. Gone are the values of decency and consideration. Our communities crumble as the population becomes insular. Society is not a pleasant place. Children are no longer brought up to know the difference between right and wrong, many are brought into the world purely for the benefit they bring in the form of allowances. Values? There are only a few of us who still have any. Decent folk are victimised. The problem should be addressed radically, there is no room for liberalism.
Mat Bolton, England

Britain has been in moral decline since at least AD43 when the Romans turned up on the south coast. Every moaning minnie of the day from that time to the present has looked back to see a golden age. I believe we live in the golden age. We are healthier, wealthier, live longer and are safer that ever we have been. We have always had problems to command our attention and always will have; that's a good thing and the motor that drives us to get even better. I say down with the naysayers; lets keep things in perspective and from one tragic, horrific and unnecessary death of an innocent child let's not assume that society is rotten to the core.
John Brownlee, England

We should give a bit more power back to parents and to the police

Jon Livesey, USA
Since WW II Britain has swung from being a rather repressed, but disciplined society, to being a highly creative and liberal one. Surely no one thought you could go back to the excitement of the Regency era without running into at least a few of that period's social problems. We should not give up our progress in liberalising society, but we should give a bit more power back to parents and to the police.

While we are at it, let's expose some of the bankruptcy of so-called social science" and so-called "activism". In any country there are half-bright hangers on who love to make a living mouthing empty nonsense about society. And in any country there are violent types who love to latch onto any protest or demonstration. It's time to send the "social workers" out to find a real job, and have the violent demonstrators find out what jail looks like from the inside. If we fail to rein the destructive types in a bit, we'll just head back to a society that is more repressive than we want.
Jon Livesey, USA

One is amused by a couple of the correspondents here blaming Thatcher for encouraging "individualism", thus leading to the country's moral decline. What such intellectually bankrupt "thinkers" usually mean is that they want more for nothing! If they can't see that as being morally reprehensible in and of itself, then the UK's got more issues than I'd thought! In the meantime, while we're all bickering, poor Mr. Taylor ... my heart goes out to him and his family.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Morality in the UK is not in decline. Its already hit the bottom! What can be expected in a society obsessed with money and possessions, image and celebrity. The only role models are cretinous popstars and footballers and brain-dead models and soap stars. What can be expected when most TV is so negative and downbeat, especially soaps and kids programmes like Grange Hill and Biker Grove where the kids are smart and the adults geeky, stupid and incompetent. We could do far worse than to take Singapore as a model of how society can be both disciplined and orderly but still democratic and pleasant.
A Cutelli, UK

Bring back the birch, or at least some form of discipline! Some parents shirk their responsibilities both to their children and fellow citizens - to the detriment of everyone. Schoolteachers are powerless to control unruly children - the kids have the power nowadays, and their parents let them get away with it! I have always told my children that they should treat others as they would expect others to treat them. Hopefully that will keep them on the straight and narrow, but its all to easy for them to be influence by others!
Rob, England

Well I hardly see moral decline as surprising when our political leaders are as they are. I think it is about time a maximum term of office for MP's is introduced to clear out all the corruption from Westminster. Lets have a fresh start and get people running the country that are not afraid to make the necessary changes because it might jeopardise their long term careers.
David, UK

There is no moral decline in the UK

Robbo, England
There is no moral decline in the UK. In the modern age of media and information it is easier to believe such stories because communication is much better. The truth is, we have a very civilised society that has made ethical progress.
Robbo, England

My heart goes to Richard Taylor. No one should ever have to be in that situation. I can't help thinking back to Maggie and the way she endorsed "individualism". What she actually bred was sheer selfishness. She drew a line in the sand, and then promptly sprinted over it. There is not a single politician in the UK who is worthy of shaking Richard Taylor's hand.
Chris (ex-UK), Germany

The current problem of street crime is not so much a moral one as a lack of respect. That stems directly from the period between the mid 1970's and the mid 1990's when the principal authority figures in children's lives - teachers and police - were systematically undermined. The teachers through years of being undervalued, and the police through being used as a means of political enforcement against dissent during the miners' strike and poll tax riots. It is possible to build up respect again, but it will take far longer than it took to undermine. In the mean time, instilling a genuine fear of being caught and punished would probably go a long way to help.
Guy Chapman, UK

Richard Taylor could not have made a more succinct and penetrating statement about our country. In just a few words he has said more than most of the sociologists and anthropologists put together. What speaks even more about us is that it has taken the murder of his dearly loved son for his words to be given credence. Damilola, you did not die in vain; I am sorry you paid a heavy price for our nation's wrongdoing.
Peter Barraclough, England

The responsibility for lawlessness amongst a minority of UK children has to lie with the parents. The solutions are therefore clear. Punish the parents. Fines for those who allow their children to break the law will soon have the desired effect. I am also in favour of, in extreme cases, removing children from their parents if they have shown sufficiently that they cannot or will not control them.
John Ross, UK

We do not want our daughter to become like these kids

Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)
My wife and I have embarked on a long journey, that of parenting. It is by no means an easy ride. It is something that takes a lot of time and effort, but we believe it is worth it. We are not affiliated to any church or synagogue, but that does not mean we have no morals or ethics. We do not want our daughter to become like these kids who terrorise others and we'll do our best to raise her properly, in respect of others, us and also importantly, of herself. After all, that's only what our respective parents did for us.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

Totally, let's head down Nigeria's path and start dishing out 100 lashes to 17 year-olds who get pregnant outside marriage. Sounds like a sure fire way to boost moral fibre.
Jon, UK

Ban the tabloid newspapers that promote 'yob culture'. Ban the soap operas that provide artificial and implausible role models. Ban football because it generates brain-dead 'tribal' thinking. Hold parents totally responsible for the actions of their children - legally, financially and morally. Most importantly, introduce a licensing system for reproduction. Sterilise all humans at birth and only reverse the process when they have proved (via education and testing) that they have the necessary willpower, common-sense and education to raise children.
Phil White, England

I totally agree with Mr Taylor. I am 25 and I have seen over the last 10 years the control of youths on the street decrease dramatically. Only 2 weeks ago a 36 year old man was attacked and killed by a group of youths wielding a golf club. The laws in this country have to be changed so that kids are not allowed to hang around streets getting bored which ultimately leads them to committing crime, because as it stands the police control over these youths is pitiful.
Colin D, England

Yes, you often hear people shouting about their 'rights'. Maybe we should educate people to start thinking about their DUTY!
Neil, UK

The nation is not in moral decline

Ian Lowe, Scotland, UK
The nation is not in moral decline. As Richard Holloway, the former Episcopalian Bishop of Edinburgh has pointed out, we are at a changing point in the moral fabric of the nation: people are rejecting a morality that is based on "because God says so", and trying to find a more acceptable humanistic one. Respect for human rights, freedom of speech, fairness in justice etc, are all building blocks of the new moral code of the UK.
Ian Lowe, Scotland, UK

There is no doubt that Britain in the 21st Century is in moral decline. People no longer have respect for each other or their property and the Government is too weak and too worried about their own political self-interest to do anything about it. Instead of concentrating on getting re-elected (and I am talking about all parties here) the party in Government should concentrate on the well-being of the nation.
Stuart Hendry, UK

You just need to look at today's headline story about Mandelson to see how bad the morals are in this country. It is not easy to blame the families when the people we are supposed to look up to are so morally degenerated.
James H, UK

Regarding John B's comment about reintroducing the death penalty. Is he mad? Why does a certain section of society react with this ridiculous argument that if we had the death penalty, children wouldn't cause a nuisance. I do tend to agree with most of the other contributors that children lack even the most basic discipline. Oh, for the days of a clip round the ear for being cheeky.
William Cater, England

I absolutely agree with Mr Taylor

Clive, UK
I absolutely agree with Mr Taylor. Whilst many young people are strongly moral and ethical, there are many whose families have become morally lost but are unable to "climb out of the box". The Church is desperate to help, but the State can't even support the principle of marriage and the nuclear family anymore. We should first have moral leadership and education, then a media that has the willpower to deliver the message rather than 24 hour violence and misery.
Clive, UK

Mr Taylor's comments on making parents realise that they are responsible for bringing up their children, are probably some of the most accurate I have heard in a long time. I think that too many parents these days think that it is the responsibility of others to instil discipline and values into their offspring. I remember one mother telling me that she could not wait until her young daughter started school so that they could teach her some manners. Perhaps if we could stop this kind of attitude and make people realise how difficult and important "good" parenting is, we would be able stop the rot before it gets any worse.
Des Whittall, UK

The Sixties brought new freedoms to the masses: culturally, socially and politically. Then Margaret Thatcher came along and encouraged people to take these ideals to much greater extremes. In the name of 'individualism', Britons became insular and selfish, and have ignored their collective responsibilities ever since. The moral of this little story is: 'individuals' are not 'free' and do not have the automatic 'right' to do entirely as they wish, because everything they do affects others in some way.
Richard, UK

I find it bizarre that in a conversation about morals the death penalty can rear its ugly head as an appropriate solution. Violence breeds violence as the rate of violent crime in the US must surely evidence. Education is the only way to remove the real barrier to a healthy society - ignorance.
Ian, Scotland

The problem stems from lack of punishment

Tom B, England
The problem stems from lack of punishment. We've all read in the press about criminals receiving short sentences. No wonder the community in Peckham doesn't want to come forward. No doubt even if the killers were found, they'd be released after a short amount of time, thus being able to act revenge on relevant witnesses who came forward.
Tom B, England

Morale has disappeared from public life, be it in politics (corruption) or on the streets. We are living in a lawless society where everyone does what they think is right without any regards to anyone else. I partly blame the parents for crimes such as the Damiola murder. I know kids of ten years of age who have their own TV sets in their rooms where parents have no control anymore over what is being watched and at what hours. I see kids in the street, loitering and setting fire to abandoned cars. You tell them off, they tell you two words (FO) or threaten you.
Thomas Hinn, England

I second the comments by John B. A minority of individuals are responsible for the decline in law and order in this country. Political correctness and left-wing policies have been at the root of the problem. It's about time those that break the laws of the land are punished properly by the state. The alternative, of course, is for those of us that live by the law to enforce it ourselves.

I am impressed by Mr Taylor's courage in calling for the nation to unite behind the memory of his son. He is absolutely right. We live in a country where crime goes unpunished (in some cases even rewarded) and where in the eternal pursuit of our "rights" we have forgotten that other people also have rights and that there can be no rights without matching responsibilities. It would be a brave politician to reintroduce the death penalty and force the balance of power back to the law-abiding majority, but unless this is done the nation will continue its inexorable decline into the quagmire of individual isolation.
John B, UK

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19 Jan 01 | UK
Rest in peace, Damilola
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