Society has lost its moral compass, warns Rowntree trust

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The Independent Online

When the philanthropist Joseph Rowntree listed society's evils more than 100 years ago he was optimistic the "great scourges of humanity" would be overcome. Nearly a decade into a new century, the widely held view is that we have added to our list of woes, and are more uncertain how to deal with them.

Ed Miliband, minister for the Cabinet Office, said: "Many of the concerns highlighted by the JRF are shared by the Government. Tackling social evils such as poverty, drug and alcohol abuse are at the heart of our mission."

Poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling were highlighted by Rowntree in a 1904 memorandum. But in the report published today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation identifies 10 social evils based on the views of more than 3,500 people, and concludes that society has lost its "moral compass".

"We know there is more to do," said Mr Miliband, "and since the survey was conducted we've been responding with new policies that deal with some of the issues raised."

A decline in community, values and the family; individualism, consumerism and greed; and young people being both victims and perpetrators of crime, are all deemed to be social evils by the JRF. The new list is completed by drugs/alcohol, poverty, crime/violence and either immigration or prejudice against it. Government, the media, big business and lack of religion – or too much – are all blamed.

Beth Watts, a JRF researcher, said that a century ago there "was a feeling that these things really could be overcome. I think people are now less clear about how to move forward."

Dr Danny Sriskandarajah of the Institute for Public Policy Research described the research as "an indication of the things that keep us awake at night".