What are today’s social evils?
This summary presents the findings of a public consultation exploring the social evils facing Britain today. In 1904, Joseph Rowntree identified what he believed were the worst social evils. The new list is the result of a web survey of 3,500 people and discussions with groups whose voices are not usually heard. It reveals a strong sense of unease about some of the changes shaping British society.
Participants highlighted the following concerns about how we seem to live our lives:
decline of community: communities are weak and people are increasingly isolated from A their neighbours, at considerable cost to well-being and happiness. •
Individualism: people tend to see themselves as individuals and not as part of wider society, leading to selfishness and insularity. •
onsumerism and greed: an excessive desire for money and consumer goods has eclipsed C values and aspirations rooted in relationships and communities. •
decline of values: there is no longer a set of shared values to guide behaviour. A Participants emphasised a lack of tolerance, compassion and respect shown to others.
Against this backdrop, people identified the following, more concrete, social evils:
he decline of the family: family breakdown and poor parenting were felt to cause many T other social problems and leave young people particularly vulnerable. •
oung people as victims or perpetrators: Young people were seen as perpetrators of social Y evils like anti-social behaviour, or the victims of stereotypes and limited opportunities. •
rugs and alcohol: misuse of drugs and alcohol was viewed as the consequence and D cause of many other social problems, like family breakdown and poverty. •
overty and inequality: poverty was viewed as a corrosive social evil in an affluent society, P underpinning other social problems, such as homelessness and family breakdown. •
Immigration and responses to immigration: participants felt that local residents lose out to immigrants in competition for scarce resources. Others criticised negative attitudes to and lack of support for immigrants and thought society should be more tolerant and inclusive. •
rime and violence: people felt that Britain is more dangerous and violent than in the past. C Child abuse and exploitation were highlighted as particularly damaging evils.
Government, media, big business and religion were believed to be responsible for these social evils. People also emphasised personal responsibility for social evils, but thought bad choices and damaging behaviour could be symptoms of underlying social problems, such as poverty. They also thought some social evils are embedded in current ways of living and thinking.
A century has passed since Joseph Rowntree set up the three trusts which bear his name to “search out the underlying causes of weakness or evil in the community”. In 1904, he identified poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling as the “great scourges of humanity”. Joseph Rowntree recognised, however, that times would change and he wanted the trusts to be “free to adapt themselves to the ever-changing necessities of the nation”. This consultation revisits the concept of ‘social evil’ and explores the underlying problems that cause the most damage to British society or the most misery to its people. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s public consultation asked ‘What are today’s social evils?’ Ten social evils are detailed in this summary, but many other concerns were raised, including gender inequality; religion and the decline of religion; the provision of health services and care; and environmental issues such as global warming. These are discussed in more detail in a separate report by Beth Watts.
The consultation The consultation had two strands. A webbased consultation was held from July to September 2007 at...
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