Damning social trends

FOUR YEARS after Margaret Thatcher stood proudly on the steps of the UN headquarters in New York, clutching the hand of some unfortunate eight year old boy and promising to give a “high priority to the rights of children”, a United Nations report has damned Britain’s treatment of children.

In particular, the report smacks the government’s hand sharply over its barbaric plans to build detention centres for offenders as young as 12, and warns that this would actually contravene international law (never stopped the Tory government before, of course). Unsurprisingly, the UN bemoaned the increasing number of children living in poverty (what about the adults?), the high rate of teenage pregnancies, the savage cuts in benefits, appearance of child beggars and ‘dossers’, and corporal punishment in private schools.

Interestingly, they pick out the treatment of children in Northern Ireland under emergency ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation as especially reprehensible - children as young as 10 can be detained for seven days without charge.

All in all, not very good PR for the British government. However, it gets worse. The 1995 edition of Social Trends has graphically highlighted the widening gulf between rich and poor, which assumed unheard of proportions during the 1980s.

The gap between the richest and poorest tenths of male workers, which is given in constant 1994 prices, grew from £203 a week in 1971 to almost £402 last year. For women workers, the equivalent gap grew from £118 to £279.

The cost of living has shot up in real terms as well. Bus and coach fares have risen 142% since 1981 and rail fares 141%.

You can draw your own conclusions. The government certainly did, as it hastily dropped the introductory statement in Social Trends, com-missioned to mark the 25th anniversary of its publication.

The claim was that it was “too political”. By this it meant that the taboo word, ‘poverty’, was used too frequently, when normally it is blue-pencilled out of official reports.

Coincidentally the publication of a similar report by Barnardos has been “delayed”. It too is critical of government policy on social services, education and housing, etc.

Lies, damn lies and statistics ... but a little too close to the truth for the government to stomach.

Frank Vincent