The estimable Theordore Dalrymple had a simple view at the Poverty event: the UK is utterly corrupt and terrible and you need to leave if you want to escape ‘real’ poverty. This prompted a big discussion at the bottom of the post I wrote about it. Then Philip Stephens today issued a call to end the Politics of Pessimism, and I thought: hello, we have an issue here.
So: is life now sh1t? Is it worse than 1995? I remember 1995 in particular because I was sat in a miserable council house estate on £10k, reading stories of NHS decline and carjacking.
What are the figures? Well, teen pregnancy is high in the UK. But it has fallen from about 50 to 42 since 1996. A trend you see in the US as well. Divorce is also high, but again lower than in the 1990s. Lone parents are far more likely to be employed now. In my view, our cities have really tidied up; like Skapinker, I really love living in London – it has made me what I am.
If you really want to understand the reality of crime in this country, the figures that matter are in the research which shows that just 1% of the population suffers 59% of all violent crime; that just 2% of the population suffers 41% of all property crime. And where are these victims? Most criminals commit their offences within 1.8 miles of their front door. In other words, they rob their neighbours. And overwhelmingly, those offenders live in the shabby tower blocks and council estates which have been consumed by poverty and criminalised by the war against drugs. That is where the crime is booming, where, as a single example, an 18-year-old lone woman with a child is more than five times more likely than the average to be a crime victim, far away from the statisticians and the politicians and their celebrations of success. Almost invisible
Much of this is quite open to conspiracy theory (“they would tell you that, wouldn’t they”). But I am fairly sure than NHS waiting times ARE lower than they were before, and am willing to believe from my own experience that the NHS is in fact as popular as it has been in 25 years. The NHS may have helped my family in all sorts of ways, so I’m biased.
The same survey finds that antisocial behaviour is a continuous plague on society. Well, littering for sure.
But, in general, most of these factors – even crime (I was burgled in my own house in 1999, three huge Jamaican guys, us two cowering under the covers) – do not matter as much as others quite beyond the control of the public sector. I don’t credit or blame politicians for most things in life. I prefer life to 1995 because of the Internet, because we have cheap travel, an end to the Cold War. I think life is pretty free and liberal, on the whole. I like seeing increased immigration, like meeting people from Poland Perhaps I have been dealt a good hand – well, I certainly have.
And I don’t think that the debt changes all this. Endless posts and columns today talking about this, most of the sensible people agreeing: we need some austerity, we need to be clever with the timing. Martin Wolf, for example, and Wynne Godley in the letters. Duncan finds plenty of evidence that people doubt the timing of the Tories on quantitative easing. Martin Kettle as well find the Tories ‘doctrinaire‘ in their small-government thinking. .
The reality is that economic recovery, not budget cuts, holds the key to reducing the deficit. The public sector certainly needs radical reform, but the national debt has been higher in the past, and cutting it must not be allowed to trump all other objectives. The next government should be patient, and wait for the revenues to begin flowing. The course set by Cameron and Osborne is not just doctrinaire. It is also dangerous.
The FT is talking about this already as well.
If any government does too much, too soon, then that could endanger the recovery as well. David Cameron talked of a plan today – not a timetable – because I think he knows that as well.
Disclaimer: reading miserabilist writers in the Spectator was a formative anti-Tory moment for me. I can’t bear the pessimism, it often elides into conspiracy theory and a very mistaken nostalgia. If I learned anything on my course, it’s that the current 6bn people alive are hugely more fortuante than the 74bn that had short brutal lives before them – and the 60m living in the UK are in the top 5% of those living. So quit whining.