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  • Technorati: graph / links

    Is This Thatcher’s Britain?


    by Leon on 1st December, 2008 at 3:28 pm    

    The BBC reports today on research it commissioned into British community life:

    Community life in Britain has weakened substantially over the past 30 years, according to research commissioned by the BBC.

    Analysis of census data reveals how neighbourhoods in every part of the UK have become more socially fragmented. The study assesses the health of a community by looking at how rooted people are in their neighbourhood. Academics created “loneliness indices”, to identify where people had a “feeling of not belonging”.

    I can’t say I’m surprised, nor am I really sure it takes a study to make people aware of this.

    What has caused this social disintegration? Why are people more disconnected than ever before in the UK? Is the easy answer that it’s Thatcher’s fault enough of an answer (or even an answer at all)? Or has something else gone wrong, if so what? More importantly, how to we change things for the better?



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    34 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. sonia — on 1st December, 2008 at 3:50 pm  

      well i havent read the report in full and yes of course increasingly stressful economic lives are a big reason for this (i.e. the lack of work/life balance)

      but at the same time, there is so much more work in ‘civil society’ and civil society organisations, that that says something too, but of course, that attracts a certain kind of person. it’s definitely the case i’d say - that if you aren’t a get up and go kind of person, the way cities and the world of work operates nowadays, it’s hard work.

      a place like Los Angeles is a good case in point. thank god london’s not a car city and still has human scale (well mostly anyway)

    2. comrade — on 1st December, 2008 at 4:07 pm  

      Please read marx thoery on Alienation

    3. Amrit — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:05 pm  

      Though it might be unfashionable to say it, I’m afraid that I have to suggest that technology might have a little something to do with it too.

      Cities tend to be full of people looking to mind their own business anyway, but give them all IPods and laptops and they won’t have even the slightest need to talk to each other. Plus the fact that so many of us are always on the PC at home (*ahem*) or in front of the TV means that we don’t have street parties like people used to, or whatever.

      We have generally removed any need to interact with others that we don’t know, or don’t know well, wherever possible, both through becoming rich enough to move away from them, and by the use of personal technologies. That’s why people only really start showing a bit of community spirit when bad things happen - but then the tabloid media harnessing such bad things in order to develop its own distorted narratives only causes more misunderstanding.

      I think London/the UK has a certain cliquey-ness about it sometimes as well, a tangible lack of social mobility, that maybe branches off from our class system? You don’t generally get ‘It-Girls’ that come from nowhere, like Genevieve Jones in America, for example… all of them seem to be posh in some way, to have some sort of ‘entitlement’. That doesn’t help in getting people to relate to each other, which is what community spirit is all about…

      Like I said, not a fashionable point to make, but I think it is not unreasonable. Or maybe it’s a load of old twaddle, qui sait!

    4. Ashik — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:09 pm  

      The family is the central component of society.

      Over the past few decades the family has broken down in an accelerated fashion. Fewer children are born and bought up in the security of wedlock. Fewer still maintain contact with both parents while growing up. Extended family has broken down. Old people are left to die alone and their bodies are only discovered decomposing months later. Communities have become nothing more than commuter hubs (in London & South East at least). Changing socio-economics has led to women now entering the jobs market as a norm. Women usually hold a household together now they are competing with blokes in the office and factory. The flip-side of progress is disintegration of the family. There isn’t much the govt can do. It’s a cultural phenomenon underpinned by globalisation economics. It isn’t surprising that communities have become ‘less rooted’.

    5. sonia — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:19 pm  

      thruflo of people will always complicate the matter of course.

      last month i was in hackney buying veggies from a shop where i used to go years ago when i lived in hackney.(for a few months) the shop-keeper recognised me and (gave me a free toblerone! how sweet!) and that was really nice - gave me a sense of ‘community’ which is so unusual.

    6. sonia — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:20 pm  

      of course there is always facebook :-)

    7. sonia — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:22 pm  

      maybe its just increasing existential angst..given the state of the world that’s perhaps not so suprising?

    8. Tom — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:36 pm  

      I think you’re over interpreting a very poor piece of research. As there are no census questions about lonliness they are basing it on other indicators as proxies eg. that single person households are more “lonely”. In fact this includes students and others who probably have larger friendship groups/networks than most. The authors have previously been criticised on methodology which asserted that British cities were becoming more segregated.

      If you check out suicide rates and other indicators many of the areas which rank high in the index of lonliness are probably quite socially healthy. And the increase in black and asian communities with strong kinship networks probably means that social ties have grown in most big cities.

      Seems to me its more part of social researchers wanting to draw a bleak picture perhaps reflecting the media/national mood and a long term British anti-urban bias. For a more balanced view the article below (about NY) is interesting (and the accompanying photgraphs are fabulous).

      http://nymag.com/news/features/52450/

    9. Leon — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:44 pm  

      Like I said, not a fashionable point to make, but I think it is not unreasonable. Or maybe it’s a load of old twaddle, qui sait!

      Would you say technology (as you describe it) is the symptom of the problem or its cause?

    10. Refresh — on 1st December, 2008 at 5:45 pm  

      It is Thatcher’s Britain.

      And facebook is the online equivalent.

    11. Amrit — on 1st December, 2008 at 6:23 pm  

      Probably more of a symptom than a cause. Technology is used in a way which allows people to isolate themselves, but I think that people internalize certain ideas like ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and ‘don’t talk on the Tube’ and then portable technology allows them to reinforce it.

      I agree with Tom though, this does all sound rather doom-and-gloom and I’m always wary of terms like ’social disintegration’ which resound with negativity.

      I have to say though, I think our obsession with visual media is a bit dangerous. I’ve recently read ‘Brave New World’ and I can’t help thinking of how few people trust what they read in the papers, but many tend to adhere to that old Western maxim of ’seeing is believing…’ I would definitely say that I find myself becoming much more passive when I watch stuff compared to when I read it. Apparently our brains haven’t yet evolved enough to deal with the visual image or something, which is why pornography makes us aroused and why we tend to believe what we see - or so I was told by my ex…

      Facebook is ironic because it gets you back in touch with a few people who you probably could’ve done with forgetting anyway, and then proceeds to make you hate everyone you care about by bringing you every little detail of their lives every second… haha.

    12. Leon — on 1st December, 2008 at 7:23 pm  

      On the point about Facebook I’m not so sure. My experience has been entirely positive, in fact it and MySpace have been instrumental in re-connecting with some very good old friends I’d have no hope of finding otherwise!

      That’s why I’m curious about the mention of technology, because in my experience it brings me more closer to people that it does push me away (the amount of random conversations I’ve had in games shops about some game or another…).

    13. Refresh — on 1st December, 2008 at 7:26 pm  

      The thing about facebook is that you are part of an online business, and your need or interest in likeminded people is monetised. And noted and tagged for all eternity.

    14. Don — on 1st December, 2008 at 7:50 pm  

      If this is true, and Tom makes a good point about the methodology, then I don’t think we should forget to assign some of the blame to Thatcher.

      The collapse of traditional industries brought with it the collapse of many social mechanisms which held communities together. Relatively few people now live, work and socialise in the same relatively small area, surrounded by work mates and family.

      In many rural areas affluent incomers commute to work, entertain at home rather than visit the pub, educate their children privately and do their shopping by driving to an out of town supermarket. With pubs, schools, local shops and post offices closing villages are increasingly becoming little more than dormitory settlements. Increased property values mean that those who still do work in the area are often housed several miles away in locations which don’t attract solicitors or company directors.

      The cutting back on public spaces is another factor. Parks, lidos, playing fields which were once well maintained and well used are now often either gone or neglected and unwelcoming - even seen as unsafe. To spend resources on an area with no measurable commercial value is now considered bold and visionary where once it was a matter of basic civic pride.

      Children are less likely to be free to explore and come to know their area - they are either confined to the house and socialise on-line or are driven to organised activities. The fear of the stranger (’Stranger Danger’ could well be the most ill-conceived slogan ever) has made children afraid of those around them and now ‘feral kids’ hysteria has even led adults to be afraid of kids.

      As for Facebook etc, I’m to old to get into that but, on reflection, I do spend more time communicating with people I have never met (mainly here) than I do with anybody except my immediate family and two or three close friends.

      But if the study concludes that the inhabitants around Hyde Park and Hollyrood are feeling lonely and isolated then, as Tom points out, they are relying rather too much on crude indicators. Since when did the rich feel ‘rooted’ in a community? Headingly is also mentioned, my daughter is living there as a student and has a great social life but the indicators would have her in a state of anomie and isolation.

      There probably has been a significant change in people feeling disconnected, in some areas it may well be a serious problem, but overall I doubt things are as gloomy as this report makes out. Difficult to be other than subjective on this, though.

    15. Leon — on 1st December, 2008 at 9:16 pm  

      The thing about facebook is that you are part of an online business, and your need or interest in likeminded people is monetised.

      What isn’t? That wasn’t the point however, you seem to be saying that business inherently alienates people from each other. Is that a correct understanding of your point?

    16. Refresh — on 1st December, 2008 at 9:55 pm  

      Leon, free market ideology does just that.

      Business working FOR its stakeholders can be an admirable method of bringing disparate people together.

      My point about facebook is really that it does not have a moral purpose other than to generate value and revenue for itself. The fact is that you and others are willing to give facebook that value by doing all the work ie place all your personal and sometimes intimate details on their servers as well as all your contact list.

      In terms of becoming some sort of social glue, it cannot. It will do what it needs to maintain massive membership, and ideally amongst those with greater disposable income. Because that’s what its advertisers want.

      Beyond that its model MUST require it to be monopolistic.

      It is also excluding, for a number of reasons. It excludes those who are not broadbanded, those who are not so IT literate or those who think blogging and online activity itself is isolationist.

    17. Leon — on 1st December, 2008 at 10:09 pm  

      My point about facebook is really that it does not have a moral purpose other than to generate value and revenue for itself. The fact is that you and others are willing to give facebook that value by doing all the work ie place all your personal and sometimes intimate details on their servers as well as all your contact list.

      You’re making quite a few sweeping generalisations and assumptions there…I didn’t say it was critical but it has been useful. And like I say I’ve found friends on there I’d have literally no way of finding again (bar spending tens of thousands on a private investigator!).

      Quite frankly if FB makes a few million off that I can live with it, because the friendships have value beyond mere money.

      It is also excluding, for a number of reasons. It excludes those who are not broadbanded, those who are not so IT literate or those who think blogging and online activity itself is isolationist.

      So I shouldn’t use websites I like because there are some poor people out there without email access? Please, that’s a stupid arguement! It’s not the fault of any website that someone doesn’t have broadband access.

      But anyway, we could be here all day arguing about the value of social networking.

      I’m more interested in your belief that the ‘market ideology’ alienates people. What are you basing that on?

    18. Refresh — on 1st December, 2008 at 11:12 pm  

      ‘Please, that’s a stupid arguement!’

      I wouldn’t have thought it was if you are talking about lack of social interaction and social divisions. Especially if you think social networking is a plus.

      You could argue that it is something that needs to be resolved at the governmental level, and there was (is) or should be a policy directed at bridging the digital divide.

      I am not opposed to networking etc., not in the least. I am just not convinced by the business models behind it. Nor should you be, as we will all realise soon enough.

      In terms of alienation, I think Don did a pretty good job in #14 outlining some of the issues. I too felt like re-iterating my deeply held feelings regards thatcherism, but once per blog is enough.

      One thing I really want to get across whilst on the subject, is what role trade unions played and some still play in keeping the fundamental structures of our society in place and functioning. To me the trade union movement has been the best of all the social networks, followed by the cooperative movement and mutuals. A market ideology has emasculated them to significant degree.

      Value of an individual in a market economy is measured by their disposable income. And you could argue, as has been the case in the last few years, the ability to obtain credit. Which in turn means the only real social pressure the government has to deal with is the management of disorder from those who are not ‘valued’. Give them enough to survive, but never enough to empower.

    19. billericaydicky — on 2nd December, 2008 at 10:46 am  

      I have never bought the whole thing about Thatcher’s Britain being about the breakdown of society because if that was the case then “society” was very much based on state subsidies for inefficient industries that couldn’t compete in world markets.

      I am also very sceptical about “reports ” as in my experience the bodies commissioning them have an agenda and need figures to back it up.

      A very good example of this is the ridiculous “New East End” published by the Labour think tank The Young Foundation.

      The controversy over this book has academics on the one side discussing methods and criticising each others methodolgy and real East Enders on the other who have all unanimously dismissed the book as rubbish with parts of it actually being fabricated.

      Always look for the agenda, very few reports are neutral, there is always a reason for them. The CRE published the reports of hundreds of investigations into ” racism”. Every single one found it and it got to the stage that to even be investigated by the CRE meant that you were guilty.

      The Young Foundation is closely linked to New Labour, the Director is Geoff Mulgan and one of the authors is Kate Gavron of the family of the same name. I don’t know if anyone out there has read it but it is a prime example of how government use seemingly neutral organisations to produce “research” to support a particular strand of policy.

      In this case it has been decided to look at the threat from the BNP and to address the grievances of its core base of support. Nothing wrong with that I hear you all say and I would agree. What the book has done however however is to present a rosier picture than really exists of the relationship between whites and Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets.

      What has happened is that the powers that be have finally taken on board the fact that white people perceive themselves to be discriminated against in many areas of their lives and that this has translated into a growing vote for Griffin and co.

      Rather than going back to square one and putting the blame where is should be squarely on the CRE and all of the other race industry parasites who have been blaming white people for everything for the last thirty years what they have done is to say that the situation is not as bad as it seems.

      What really gets me going about the “think tank industry”, and the Young Foundation is a prime example of this, is their complete and utter arrogance. They claim to have special powers to analyse our lives and to tell us that what is happening is actually not what we think is happening from our real time experience.

      I know this is a bit long but I don’t think it is off subject as what is at stake here is the credibility of, and the political agendas of, those producing these reports.

    20. bananabrain — on 3rd December, 2008 at 9:04 am  

      Cities tend to be full of people looking to mind their own business anyway, but give them all IPods and laptops and they won’t have even the slightest need to talk to each other. Plus the fact that so many of us are always on the PC at home (*ahem*) or in front of the TV means that we don’t have street parties like people used to, or whatever.

      although i live in london, i still live in a village. that may have something to do with the fact that i don’t use my car on one day a week and walk everywhere. i live within five minutes’ walk of three sets of first cousins and my aunt and uncle, my kids have a set of second cousins that they can meet at the playground in the middle - we moved where we moved in order to achieve precisely this, to be within local distance of friends and family, community facilities and so on. we are guaranteed to meet people we know in the street, just getting to know local people by walking around the place. i’m not sure technology interferes with this, but cars certainly do. it seems to me that what we lack is sensible planning and zoning; the nearest pub is a good 15 minutes walk, which in london seems a bit stupid. and the post office is under threat, too. actually, it seems to me that that isn’t the fault of the free market, but in the obtuseness and lack of will to recognise the substantial assets of the royal mail, but fortunately that is now changing. unfortunately, in this, the major obstacle is the trade union barons. i think the trade unions were amazing institutions once, but now they have just become producer special interests that lobby like everyone else. i blame ideology, personally, from the NHS to the railway. and i’m not letting mrs thatcher off scot-free, either.

      The thing about facebook is that you are part of an online business, and your need or interest in likeminded people is monetised. And noted and tagged for all eternity

      oh, for feck’s sake. you don’t have to use a nectar card, either. all of these things create jobs, wealth and investment, although you’d probably prefer it if we all sat on our hands and waited for handouts from the taxpayer - oh, hang on a minute, that’s us too, isn’t it? that’s right - i want the government to take my money and then give it back to me, minus an “administration fee”, of course, we have to pay for pointless IT systems, after all. why aren’t you living on an island somewhere without electricity, refresh? i hope you grow your own vegetables, too.

      The collapse of traditional industries brought with it the collapse of many social mechanisms which held communities together. Relatively few people now live, work and socialise in the same relatively small area, surrounded by work mates and family.

      so we should be looking at what, other than local employers, act as community hubs. playgrounds, schools, places of worship, libraries, shops, entertainment venues… perhaps we should be asking local government why it runs music licensing as a revenue raising exercise rather than seeing it as their job to promote decent nightlife which doesn’t revolve around going into town to go clubbing. basically, i think i probably agree with don, but without having to be all socialist about it.

      You could argue that it is something that needs to be resolved at the governmental level, and there was (is) or should be a policy directed at bridging the digital divide.

      right, because large programmes run by government are historically excellent at doing that. and, of course, because nobody on a low income has a satellite TV service, a mobile phone or a gaming console, do they?

      What really gets me going about the “think tank industry”, and the Young Foundation is a prime example of this, is their complete and utter arrogance. They claim to have special powers to analyse our lives and to tell us that what is happening is actually not what we think is happening from our real time experience.

      speaking from my own experience of thinktanking, that really depends on how the analysis is framed, what conclusions are drawn and whether a statistical basis is claimed. it is perfectly possible for insight to jar with real-time experience, but it doesn’t always mean that one has to be wrong.

      b’shalom

      bananabrain

    21. Amrit — on 3rd December, 2008 at 12:03 pm  

      @ bananabrain:

      Exactly - but you moved in order to get that effect. Your point about cars is very true. You’re also ‘of the older generation’ (no offence!). I’m thinking of people who are in their teens now and people my age more. Obviously not all of them are the same, but of the teenies especially, a lot of them spend HOURS on the Web. Then again, tabloid carping about paedophiles and whatever has now probably got most parents too scared to let their kids go for walks!

      Your point about planning and zoning is excellent, I totally agree.

      I do like Facebook, but I really need to have time away from it, I find, or it gets too much.

    22. Refresh — on 3rd December, 2008 at 2:17 pm  

      You are being silly Bananabrain.

      If you understood my argument, you would see what I am getting at is you and I should have power over ‘commercial institutions’, as we are supposed to do over government, and not the other way round. .

      I would have thought you’d have got it by now considering we’ve let the banks make their billions out of you and I; and then we PAY them billions for the privilege. The same goes for the energy companies, railway system and of course water. Oh lets not forget the telecoms network.

      That tells me the market works until it fails and then we have to pay them to keep going. In a nutshell I say don’t ever let them get to a stage and size where they rule every aspect of your life and your government.

    23. Refresh — on 3rd December, 2008 at 2:20 pm  

      As for facebook, can someone explain to me why they have my and your email address, plus more, even though we’ve never been anywhere near them?

      Is it just in case someone somewhere wants to poke you?

    24. Refresh — on 3rd December, 2008 at 2:26 pm  

      Bananabrain, can you explain to me how the nectar card creates net jobs and net wealth?

      As I understand it Nectar produces nothing and is akin to airmiles. It is a marketing exercise.

    25. sonia — on 3rd December, 2008 at 3:08 pm  

      good point from tom in no. 8. there are questions about the research and their assumptions.

      ashik - you should be joining the tories.

      leon and refresh- there are big issues with FB. yes i agree with you about not having found people otherwise, and we can be grateful for that and appreciate all the great things about FB, but that does not preclude us from being aware of all the terrible things! one should always be aware and be critical. lesson of Animal farm in my opinion. what we really need is an open sourced NON PROPRIETARY social network. yes FB has been successful and it is proprietary. no good will come of that in the long run - now that we have seen how fab social networks are and how quickly we can find people when we get a certain critical mass, we should all move off it.

    26. Refresh — on 3rd December, 2008 at 3:37 pm  

      Sonia, its a disaster waiting to reveal itself.

      I am even concerned that people are using it to locate others, to do that you would usually upload your contact list to FB. If I get another request that a friend wants me join the network, I may treat it as spam from FB.

    27. Rumbold — on 3rd December, 2008 at 4:41 pm  

      Refresh:

      Come and join me in the non-Facebook world. You will feel liberated.

    28. Refresh — on 3rd December, 2008 at 4:53 pm  

      Be delighted. Where are you?

    29. Leon — on 3rd December, 2008 at 4:55 pm  

      but that does not preclude us from being aware of all the terrible things!

      Well I never said it was mutually exclusive, just that there’s more than one side to each story.

      I’m fully aware of the potential problems with FB, I’m also aware that’s it’s my choice what data I put on it. I’m not attached to it any real sense other than it’s useful NOW. These things are tools nothing more, I’m interested in what can be done with them not them themselves.

    30. Rumbold — on 3rd December, 2008 at 4:59 pm  

      Refresh:

      “Be delighted. Where are you?”

      Nowhere really. That is the brilliant thing. Your personal data doesn’t have to be anywhere, other than the places you can’t help (like when the state collects it).

    31. Leon — on 3rd December, 2008 at 5:02 pm  

      Always look for the agenda, very few reports are neutral, there is always a reason for them.

      None ever are, nor can they ever be. Seriously guys it’s no big revelation!

    32. Refresh — on 3rd December, 2008 at 5:30 pm  

      Leon,
      ‘I’m also aware that’s it’s my choice what data I put on it.’

      The thing of course is that it may not be the choice of others in your contact list which you may inadvertently supply these networks. We need to look at how Data Protection protects our contacts in situations like this.

      Don’t get me wrong, they can be very useful in their own way, but treat them as a trial run for an internet which will replace this one, and of course don’t share your contacts without prior permission.

    33. Refresh — on 3rd December, 2008 at 5:58 pm  

      Rumbold

      ‘Nowhere really. That is the brilliant thing.’

      It most definitely is. Allows us to speak freely (except if we have an online persona to protect or ego to massage).

      I suppose the new world will be the same as the old world, eventually.

    34. Leon — on 3rd December, 2008 at 7:28 pm  

      The thing of course is that it may not be the choice of others in your contact list which you may inadvertently supply these networks.

      Eh? If they’re not on FB and I invite them to join its their choice to accept or reject the invitation. If they’re already on FB it’s their choice what data they put up.

      The only area this is slightly grey is things like photos, I’m happy to de-tag or delete ANY photo of ANY friend who requests it.

      But anyway, this was a discussion about whether people feel more disconnected in our society now then 30 odd years ago. Really can’t be bothered to go round and round over dead ground discussion wise.

      On that point I’d say the lack of social housing is a big factor, and perhaps job insecurity (or people changing work often, no job for life). I’ve lived in four different boroughs over the last four or so years, four different councils, four different MPs representing me, most of my neighbours were renting privately and therefore no one really took much and interest in each other. It’s curtailed my inclination to get involved in something locally.

      (As an aside this is something those of us interested in Obama’s campaign techniques need to be very aware of if we want them to be used here by the way)

      I’d love to be able to set down some roots, get stuck in some local campaign but without social housing or buying a place it aint gonna happen in the near future…

      That said perhaps the nature of community has changed and we have quite reconciled that on a human/emotional level?



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