Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Sunday, 20 April 2008 11:53 UK

Report lists new 'social evils'

A man and a woman walking with a child
Government, media and big business were criticised in the report

Britain is a country troubled by its changing society, with greed and family breakdown among the new "social evils", according to a report.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced the list after an internet survey to which some 3,500 people contributed.

It also commissioned discussions with groups of people "whose voices are not usually heard".

The report said people were concerned that "our society has become more individualistic, greedy and selfish".

It went on: "The focus on greed as an issue reflects concern about the growing gulf between the rich and poor.

"Connected to all of these issues was the perception that we no longer share a set of common values and that we have lost our 'moral compass'."

Past social evils

In 1904 Joseph Rowntree, the founder of the social policy charity, identified poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling as his social evils.

The egalitarian principles of liberty, brotherhood and justice have been consumed by social Darwinist greed.
Jake Summers, Jackson, US

More than 100 years later the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) carried out a consultation to find out what people thought were today's top 10 social evils.

A web-based consultation was held from July to September 2007 at Anyone could contribute to this by visiting the website and listing their top three social evils.

Some 3,500 people took part and a further 100 responses were sent to the foundation by post.

In addition, an effort was made to consult other groups.

"In total, 60 people took part in eight discussion groups held across England and Scotland in September and October 2007," says the foundation.

Everything seems to be based around money and owning things
One of 3,500 respondents

"Participants were recruited through a number of charitable organisations working with groups of people whose voices are not usually heard, and included people with learning difficulties, ex-offenders, people with experience of homelessness, unemployed people, care leavers and carers.

"A particular attempt was made to include black and minority ethnic groups and young people."

The top 10 evils identified in the report were: the decline of community; individualism and selfishness; consumerism and greed, a decline of values, the decline of the family, young people as both victims and perpetrators, drugs and alcohol, poverty and inequality, immigration and responses to it, and crime and violence.


Many of the evils were inter-linked, with the decline of community connected to increasing isolation but also individualism, with relationships "eclipsed by an excessive desire for consumer goods".

One participant said: "Everything seems to be based around money and owning things. The more you have, the more successful you are."

The misuse of drugs and alcohol was identified as both a cause and consequence of many other social problems, including family breakdown and poverty.

There were conflicting responses over the role of family, with criticism for "bad parents" as well as sympathy for those doing their best in difficult circumstances, and there were different views on the importance of having both a mother and a father.

Some damned youth culture for anti-social behaviour, binge-drinking, violence, gun and knife crime, others said young people were failed by their families, schools and the media.

The decline of community
Individualism and selfishness
Consumerism and greed
A decline of values
The decline of the family
Young people both as victims and perpetrators
Drugs and alcohol
Poverty and inequality
Immigration and responses to it
Crime and violence

The issue of immigration provoked a range of responses, with some respondents feeling pressure was being put on resources and others calling for tolerance.

The report said the government was seen as being "out of touch with the real issues people face" and "ineffective at tackling social problems".

The media faced criticism for propagating negative and damaging attitudes, while religion was identified as a "cause of conflict and confusion" and big business was blamed for "fuelling inequality and consumerism".

People also emphasised the importance of personal responsibility for overcoming social problems, the report said.

Ed Miliband, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: "We will study the findings of this report. Many of the concerns highlighted by the JRF are shared by this government, and tackling social evils such as poverty and drug and alcohol abuse are at the heart of our mission."

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