Changing culture is a long term project – the future

Last Tuesday I wrote a post in which I looked at some of the major changes for the better that had occurred in my lifetime.  In many cases they were eventually consolidated in legislation, but cultural shifts had to happen over a long period of time before Parliament was willing to formalise them in law.

Before outlining some ideas for the future, I wanted to highlight a few more changes in my lifetime. Some of these required only minimal or no legislation but the changes in culture were nevertheless significant.

  • Mental illness was considered deeply shameful and patients were locked in large mental asylums.
  • Many parents thought it was not worth educating girls beyond the age of 16.
  • Stories about women drivers, mothers-in-law and busty blondes were standard comedy material.
  • Seat belts were not fitted in cars. (Ironically, when they were introduced Jimmy Savile fronted the government “Clunk, click, every trip” campaign)
  • The general view was that women who were raped were asking for it.

I repeat what I wrote in that earlier post:

As Liberal Democrats we must not lose sight of our role in this kind of long-term change over the years – being in Government is not the only way to extend liberal democracy within our country.

So what needs fixing in the UK now? In which areas of community life can we help to generate a shift in public attitudes? Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Children are overprotected, and need to be able to take more risks.
  • There is huge income inequality in pay, which goes way beyond bankers’ bonuses.
  • Prisons don’t work as they are, because a huge proportion of inmates go on to re-offend. Proper training, rehabilitation and aftercare would be cost effective if they brought down crime. There are far too many people with mental health problems in prison.
  • Looked after children leave care at 18 and are often cast adrift; they are much more likely to turn to crime, or to suffer mental illness, than other young people
  • Social workers should be given greater public recognition and esteem.
  • Far too few rape allegations are brought to court.
  • Human trafficking into the UK, which results in forms of bonded labour or prostitution, must be stopped.
  • Female genital mutilation is horrific and should never happen here.

So what would you campaign for, to help bring about a more humane and fairer society?

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • You just slipped in that social workers one didn’t you?. Respect has to be earned. Social workers don’t earn it.

  • Steve Griffiths 31st Mar '13 - 1:19pm

    Mary, I am sure both of us remember the play ‘Cathy Come Home’ in 1966 which was a hard hitting television production depicting homelessness. The brought to the public’s attention the reality of loosing one’s home, ‘Rackmanism’ and squatting. Despite the strong reaction to the programme across the nation and the launching of homeless charities, the producer claimed little had changed as a result of the play, to help the homeless.

    Successive governments (Tory and Labour) have failed to provide enough properties to house the people. In the 1990s I was a Lib Dem District Council housing spokesmen, Vice-Chair and Acting Chair; we did not have enough properties for a long waiting list then and the problem is so much more acute now. The ‘Spare Bedroom Tax’ will see many once again packing up and moving away to find affordable housing. This depressing and predictable outcome may well be a latter day ‘Cathy Come Home’ for the 21st century. As Tony Greaves put it in another thread on this website discussing that legislation “the suggestion is that the higher orders can treat the lower orders as lesser beings who can be moved around at will”

    Surely if anything in this society needs fixing now it is the provision of enough affordable housing for the people and the changing of the public’s attitude to those without an adequate roof over their heads? And this is at a time when the Lib Dems ARE in a coalition government.

  • It didn’t feel like it at the time, but maybe in the 60s the issues were easier to campaign on because so many of them were about equality: racial, gender, homosexual, disability. Obviously in none of these areas have we achieved all that is necessary, but the principles are almost universally accepted. Mary’s shopping list of areas where a change in the culture of our society is necessary is one we can all add to of course: I would suggest that for all the progress that has been made on animal welfare in the past 50 years we are still very much too dependent on the products of animals for our sustenance, to the detriment of both our health and that of the planet.

    The more fundamental problem, though, is the extent to which our education system creates people who are passive consumers (or, in the case of those rejected by it, angry, destructive nihilists). I remember a cartoon of a man saying to a small child: “Now that you’ve learned to speak, shut up!” Global capitalism has so far done a fine job in keeping populations quiescent despite their declining living standards as a consequence of its failures. George Orwell believed that the reason we did not have a revolution in this country in the 1920s was because of football pools and the radio: today that might be Sky TV and the Lottery, but it is also because we have educated several generations not to question – not authority exactly, because authority per se is no longer widely respected – but their essential powerlessness in a globalised world. Liberals believe in globalisation (whether they should in the manner in which it has developed is a matter for debate), but for there to be the remotest chance of global capitalism operating essentially to the benefit of the world’s citizens rather than to that of the owners of capital then the citizenry has to be informed and empowered: recognising the problem and implementing solutions is a major challenge to Liberals.

  • Capitalism has indeed many problems, but, like democracy, to date it appears to have been the most successful means of bring people out of poverty, and therefore the suggestion that there is some sort of conspiracy by global capitalists to keep populations quiescent is reminiscent of Marxist rhetoric, though of course Marx himself said that it was religion which is the opium of the people, so perhaps we would be better aiming our ire at organised religion.

    However, many on the right would agree that our education system is to blame for producing young people who lack self esteem and lack the self confidence to challenge authority, For instance, the recent report on entry to the Russell Group of elite universities has identified the weakness of comprehensive schools in promoting aspiration – compared to the public schools and grammar schools. While many of the new academies are essentially the same schools but with a new branding, the example of the Hackney academies in pushing bright students from a socially deprived area towards Oxbridge entrance demonstrates that with the right leadership young people can be encouraged to aim for something more than merely accepting their pre-determined lot.

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Mar '13 - 7:36pm

    Pay inequality is not a problem, wealth inequality is.

  • “Pay equality is not an issue, wealth equality is”: Its depends very much on how the wealth inequality has developed. While there has been much emphasis on the fact that the baby boomers have acquired wealth through the increase in the value of their homes, it should not be forgotten that early in their careers many of them made financial sacrifices to get on the housing ladder – not for them frequent and usually expensive holidays to exotic destinations – holidaying in Spain was actually cheaper than staying in the UK – nor 50″ plasma screen TVs, nor expensive i-phones, nor meals out at expensive restaurants. Many of the problems facing the country are surely the direct result of the willingness of today’s under 40s to rack up debts on consumer products. (In this regard the British could certainly learn a lesson from the Germans for whom credit card spending is still the exception rather than the rule.)

    Moreover, there is plenty of evidence of how the gap between top earners and middle-range earners in the UK has widened dramatically in the past 20 odd years, much more so than most other European countries. (This is why MPs feel so hard done by in that the salaries of those with whom they might once have compared themselves have zoomed way above their own.) And this gap has led to a situation in which a privileged minority of people have been able through private education to buy access to the highest paid jobs for their children, thereby perpetuating the divisions within our society. It is all very well government ministers urging local authorities not to pay their officials more than the Prime Minister, but until the Government uses its muscle to enforce a sort of reverse Fair Wages Resolution (whereby the highest paid in an organisation cannot receive more than a specified multiple of the lowest paid) on any organisation operating in, or providing services to, the public sector, then nothing will change.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Apr '13 - 2:53pm

    Graham, I agree it depends how the wealth was accumulated, the problem is not as simple as I made out. I just wanted to deflect the focus on pay onto wealth – we should not be the party of pay control and marginal income tax rates cannot get much higher.

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