Society in 2025 'will be based on selfishness'

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The Independent Online

The concern about global poverty shown by the British people during Live Aid in 1985 and Live8 last year may not last another 20 years.

A new study suggests that consumerism and individualism may prove a more dominant force by 2025 than caring about the problems of poverty at home and abroad. It found that, for the first time since 1994, Britons regard looking after themselves as more important to quality of life than looking after their communities.

The respected forecasting group Henley Centre Headlight Vision tested public attitudes to help it guess what kind of a society Britain might be in 20 years' time. It found that there was no guarantee that the values of the "Live8 generation" would be in the ascendancy.

In three of the four likely scenarios for 2025, selfishness appears to outweigh caring about others. One is called Choice Unlimited, in which today's consumerist culture would become stronger, ethical consumption less mainstream and people would engage with international issues only sporadically. Most people would have "personal home stylists" who would refresh their wardrobes, kitchen and interiors every four to six weeks.

In another, called My Home, My Castle, Britons would look inward, be suspicious of each other and encourage the Government to concentrate on British rather than global issues. International development would be low on the agenda.

Another scenario, called The Puritans Return, would see people focusing much more on local issues, a rise in self-righteousness, the poor regarded by the masses as undeserving and the government expected to set a "moral" agenda at home.

According to the Henley study, all is not lost for campaigners who hope the spirit of Live8 will remain entrenched. The other possible outcome is The Good Life, where community involvement grows and politicians come under under increasing public pressure to focus on global social and environmental justice. Green issues would be part of mainstream politics and climate change at the top of the agenda.

Michelle Harrison, who carried out the Henley study, argued that British attitudes to the world will be crucial to the fight to eliminate global poverty. She said the four scenarios showed how "social ideals" were vulnerable and that people could shift their priorities as consumers quickly. "The challenge for all stakeholders is to shake up the consumer myopia," she said. "To persistently communicate the wider perspective and explain the linkages that bind people globally, in mutual dependence, as citizens."

The report, 2025: What next for the Make Poverty History generation?, was commissioned by the Fabian Society, the Labour-affiliated think-tank, and will be launched today by Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary. Tom Hampson, the society's editorial director, said: "The question this generation wants answered is whether protest and politics ever really get us anywhere. Public cynicism, disappointment and disillusionment now could put the progress made last year at risk. Those of us in progressive politics must be clear about our vision of how we want to live and describe Britain's relationship with the world. This vision should be based on a belief in democracy and good governance, but, just as strongly, in a passion for equality, justice and the desire to use globalisation as a force for good."