Azara Blog: Rowntree Foundation claims that Britain is a "troubled" society

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Date published: 2008/04/20

The BBC says:

A report has painted a picture of Britain as a country troubled by its changing society, with greed and family breakdown among the new "social evils".

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced the list after an internet survey to which some 3,500 people contributed.

It also commissioned discussions with groups of people "whose voices are not usually heard".

The report said people were concerned that "our society has become more individualistic, greedy and selfish".

It went on: "The focus on greed as an issue reflects concern about the growing gulf between the rich and poor.

"Connected to all of these issues was the perception that we no longer share a set of common values and that we have lost our 'moral compass'."

In 1904 Joseph Rowntree, the founder of the social policy charity, identified poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling as his social evils.

More than 100 years later the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) carried out a consultation to find out what people thought were today's top 10 social evils.

A web-based consultation was held from July to September 2007 at Anyone could contribute to this by visiting the website and listing their top three social evils.

Some 3,500 people took part and a further 100 responses were sent to the foundation by post.

In addition, an effort was made to consult other groups.

"In total, 60 people took part in eight discussion groups held across England and Scotland in September and October 2007," says the foundation.

"Participants were recruited through a number of charitable organisations working with groups of people whose voices are not usually heard, and included people with learning difficulties, ex-offenders, people with experience of homelessness, unemployed people, care leavers and carers.

You would have thought that the Rowntree Foundation would occasionally decide to do something useful with its money other than produce vacuous reports. The first problem with this survey is that the online consultation was of course not representative, since it was not random. And the eight discussion groups were hardly better (too small to mean anything, and it seems mostly of significance for being some politically correct collection of people).

Is it any surprise that the issues allegedly of concern to people just happen to be the issues that the academic middle class people who run the media just happen to be pushing as the issues of the day? And did Rowntree probe these views in any way? For example, did Rowntree ask all the people who thought society was more "individualistic, greedy and selfish" whether they themselves were more "individualistic, greedy and selfish" than (say) their parents? And is there really more "family breakdown" (whatever that means) or a bigger "gulf between the rich and poor" (whatever that means) now than in 1904? Has there been any time in the history of the world when the chattering classes weren't convinced that society was "troubled"?

Unfortunately the BBC seems all too happy to promote this kind of nonsense, since they provide no critical analysis of the report, and just accept that the findings are somehow valid.

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