Aug 13 2011: Born To Fail? by Peter Wedge and Hilary Prosser (National Children’s Bureau, 1973)

Following up yesterday’s post looking at a possible constructive response to the crisis point reached during last week’s riots, it’s now possible (as it wasn’t yesterday, given security questions) to say something about its origins in discussions last night with my partner, who was asked to be part of a group – including senior city councillors, police and members of local communities – invited to discuss the issues and actions taken in the city last week with Deputy PM Nick Clegg at Canning Circus Police Station in Nottingham on Friday morning.

Thinking about what he needed to hear on Thursday night, it seemed reasonable to imagine something that had already dealt with many of these problems effectively in one area (and which, yesterday, my partner was told by senior police officers was being adopted as a model for use city-wide) would be of interest. The signs, sadly, were that his primary purpose was to gather ritual condemnations rather than listen – but perhaps we can hope that impression was misleading and his office will be looking into this further after all, even if the signs weren’t good on the day. We’ll see.

In the meantime it may be worth looking at this 1973 publication by Peter Wedge and Hilary Prosser, reporting on poverty, structural inequality and disadvantage, and their effects on children born circa 1958. Two things are striking. Firstly, that the report covers children born into the most socially mobile cohort in British history: from this point on, things worsened (in terms of entrenchment of poverty) rather than further improved. Secondly, and connected, is the dispiriting familiarity of the social waste outlined in its pages, nearly 40 years on from the date of publication.

In the face of this failure, if all our politicians can offer today is outrage at the scale of last week’s violence and destruction, well, that’s something most of us can supply ourselves, thank you very much. It’s not a great deal of actual use. Likewise, it’s perhaps worth considering (regardless of any relationship there might turn out to be between this week’s events and the deprivation in which so many people live) the very fact that we are being asked, implicitly, to tolerate this continuing deprivation even as we condemn ‘moral bankruptcy’ elsewhere.

Might that not be a position that exposes a staggering moral bankruptcy of its own?


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