Page last updated at 08:54 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 09:54 UK

'It wouldn't have happened in my day'


Lollipop ladies face increasing abuse from motorists and people on foot

John Ware
By John Ware

David Cameron thinks Britain is broken. But Gordon Brown has said: "This country has never been broken by anyone or anything."

In the current political climate, it is proving hard to have a sensible debate about such an important issue.

The BBC tried to open up the debate with the first of two programmes on BBC Two called The Death of Respect.

I have my own experiences of bad behaviour that I can safely say "wouldn't have happened in my day". (And before you groan, let me also say that there were lots of bad things that did happen in my day that mercifully no longer do).

I have a daughter aged 10 at primary school. One of her classmates regularly humiliates an overweight teacher, calling her, "you blob" or "flubber" in front of the entire class. He also hits his teachers.

There is a regime in place to try to "manage his anger" but it is not working.

Paul Ormerod
In terms of pure scientific description, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we are more fragmented and broken
Paul Ormerod, Henley Forecasting Centre

Some boys in my daughter's class swear at people to insult them, and this is not a primary school which teaches children are drawn from the ranks of the poor and dispossessed.

I was travelling home late at night on the London tube when two girls and two boys in their late teens got on and started talking about the merits of masturbation.

They were loud and boorish, but not drunk, and they were completely oblivious to the impact on their fellow passengers.

I live in a relatively quiet street off a main road. One night at about midnight, as I was trying to go to sleep, a dot of a lad on a motorbike began racing around with an exhaust that sounded like a firecracker.

None of my neighbours went outside to stop him. I did.

Sickest lifestyle

In Dudley, Worcestershire, lollipop ladies - the gentlest of public servants - say they are starting to get abuse from "you're in my way" motorists.

Yvonne, a lollipop lady for 15 years said: "They blame us for holding up the traffic, which we're not. We're just trying to get kids to school safely."

She said people "aren't as polite as they used to be".

"It takes a lot to get people to say 'Good Morning'."

When you compare much of our behaviour to the rest of Europe, the picture that emerges is of a country that is jostling for the lead in the sickest lifestyle in Western Europe.

Martin Innes
We are approaching a point where we can either come back from the brink or we're sailing over the abyss
Martin Innes, professor of the Police Science Institute at Cardiff University

Government figures show our adults are the most obese; 11 to 15-year-olds who drink, are drinking more. The average weekly intake is over six pints.

The Children's Society charity says a higher percentage of these youngsters are getting drunk than in any other OECD country.

The World Health Organisation has found that our 15 to 24-year-olds have much higher incidences of syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

And we still have the highest teenage pregnancies - a recent downward trend now reversed. We are also up there in the lead with family break-ups.

Youth crime

As for crime, ministers can rightly trumpet an overall fall from a mid-1990s peak but fail to mention evidence that suggests some offences, including assaults and threats, have not fallen as fast as they have in other EU countries.

On violent youth crime, the Youth Justice Board says offences of robbery have increased by 29% since 2004, violence against people has risen by 20% and drug offences and criminal damage is up by 12%.

Britain's murder rate has doubled since the 1970s and is now one of Western Europe's highest.

A youth drinking in the park
Figures show 11 to 15-year-olds who drink, are drinking more

Yes, I know, every generation has its moral panic.

But there are many, not just on the political right-wing, who recognise an essential truth about our society.

Robert Reiner, professor of criminology at the LSE is one: "I think in many ways Britain has broken."

Respected economist Paul Ormerod, founder of the Henley Forecasting Centre, said: "In terms of pure scientific description, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we are more fragmented and broken."

A 1980s map of Britain showed the distribution of poverty more evenly spread.

Now the red areas denoting high levels of poverty make us look like we've got measles.

Inequality is back to where it was half a century ago.


Dr David Halpern, former director of the Cabinet Office's social exclusion unit, thinks the phrase paints too bleak a picture.

But he also says the deep cleavage running through the country is inflicting great damage on the common good.

There is no respect or pride in this country, It has been destroyed
Jim, Bradford

The chances, he says, of a child from the top 50% of high-income families getting into trouble with the police is one in a 1,000.

For a child born into the bottom five percent, it is one in five - 200 times higher.

It is the increasing ghettoisation of Britain that leads Martin Innes, professor of the Police Science Institute at Cardiff University to conclude: "We are approaching a point where we can either come back from the brink or we're sailing over the abyss."

There is no reliable statistical evidence about long term youth crime trends.

But from his own research Professor Innes believes there is something more random and brutal about youth violence.

And that was certainly my impression from a comparison of crime stories in every edition of the Daily Telegraph in 1968, with every edition in 2008.

There was a marked contrast both in the numbers and nature of violent crimes by young people.

For example, the appalling story of two boys who repeatedly stamped on the head of a girl in Lancashire because she was dressed as a Goth.

There are a number of stories like this from 2008 and in recent years. But nothing quite so casually cruel from 40 years ago.

It surely does not much matter whether we say Britain is "broken" or "breaking" or "fragmenting around the edges".

What matters is whether we recognise there are trends in behaviour and values that are taking us in the wrong direction.

Part One of The Death of Respect will be on BBC Two at 2320 BST on Thursday, 16 July.

Print Sponsor

Boys sentenced over Goth murder
28 Apr 08 |  Lancashire
Teen pregnancy rates go back up
26 Feb 09 |  Health
Youth crime plan targets families
15 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
Obesity 'link to same-sex parent'
12 Jul 09 |  Health
Obesity risk 'linked to poverty'
28 May 09 |  London

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific