Britain 'has lost faith in the future'

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The Independent Online
A CLEAR majority of the population has lost confidence in its ability to provide a better future for its children, a new report will show this week.

The findings, based on a MORI poll and research by Barnardo's, show that even the middle classes, traditionally the group with the highest aspirations for their children, share the general gloom about the prospects for the next generation.

The MORI poll will show that well over 50 per cent of those questioned believe that the world their children will inherit will be worse than that which they experienced as children.

In a foreword to the report, Roger Singleton, senior director of Barnardo's, says: "Adults tend to look back on their childhood with feelings of nostalgia. But the striking consistency of views expressed by the majority of people suggests that there is something of a malaise in our confidence in the future.

"Rising poverty, job insecurity, unequal shares in economic growth and changing family structures are affecting every child and every parent from all sections of society. Barnardo's is all too familiar with the disappointed expectations of parents who see their best hopes of obtaining a better future for children thwarted."

The Barnardo's team identified a "trickle-up" factor which ensured that those outside the poorer social classes experienced the effects of a lack of social cohesion. Crime, drug-taking, child suicides, and reading difficulties have all increased and are all the results of poverty and unemployment, it argues. But their growth had infected even the children of the well- off and the employed.

The report, written by the researcher and journalist David Utting, argues that it is not surprising "if people living on social security benefits in a disadvantaged neighbourhood think that the prospects for children are more uncertain, less hopeful than their own memories of childhood. But what is striking is the extent to which their fears about the future are nowadays expressed by so many parents in more prosperous homes and communities."

The social changes which may have caused growing social insecurity include a six-fold increase in the divorce rate since the 1960s, and a rise in the proportion of babies born out of marriage since 1961 from 6 per cent to 32 per cent.

Now 1 in 5 dependent children live with a lone parent compared with 1 in 13 in the early 1970s. Between 1979 and 1992 the proportion of dependent children living in households with less than half average net income rose from 1 in 10 to 1 in 3.

One million children are now growing up in housing unfit for human habitation and infant mortality is higher in the UK than in France, the report says.

Mr Utting argues: "Parents, sometimes influenced by their own experiences of unemployment and crime, feel that they are raising children in a less stable, harder and more competitive world."

Labour yesterday argued that the report vindicated its criticisms of government policy. Donald Dewar, Labour social security spokesman, who expects to raise the findings in Parliament this week, said: "It underlines an unease across the whole range of society. The growth of inequality and threat of social exclusion is not a worry only to those who are caught at the wrong end of the arithmetic but to everyone who has an interest in social stability.

"The mysterious lack of a feel-good factor can perhaps be found in the failures of social policy and the fears that clearly dominate many people's thoughts. After 15 years of the Thatcher experiment, confidence is very low and that is depressing for all of us, as well as being a political worry for the Government."