Leading Article: Nasty truths and impoverished debate

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The Independent Online
A GREAT deal of time is spent in Britain agonising over social issues. Much of it is wasted. Commonsense solutions are often avoided in favour of complex, unwieldy strategies that fail. Instead of choosing a simple policy that most people would accept as intuitively sound, politicians are frequently blinded to reality by ideological prejudices. Two issues - video nasties and unemployment - demonstrate the problem.

To most people it is obvious that violent videos are disturbing and could be a factor in encouraging crime. Yet liberals, fearful of restricting freedom, are loath to accept these claims. So there is endless debate, despite the fact that the truth seems clear to many people. This month, at last, 25 of Britain's leading child psychologists forced the ideologists to open their eyes when they reported a link between videos and child crime.

The right's problem is unemployment. It seems almost a truism that people living on the breadline with no jobs and little hope will be tempted into crime. This has been the case throughout history. It does not mean that an impoverished person is inevitably criminal. The vast majority of people in straitened circumstances live within the law.

Yet right-wing politicians stubbornly refuse to accept the link between crime and unemployment. Last week, the Home Office, faced with its own evidence that joblessness lies at the heart of rising crime, was embarrassed and played down its own study. This had nothing to do with the accuracy of those findings. It reflected an ideological unwillingness to accept that more might have to be done to boost employment. Ministers prefer to advocate harsher prisons and tougher sentences, measures widely regarded as doomed to fail.

The Government has, with some reason, forsworn macro-economic policies used by earlier post-war administrations to increase employment. Judging that it can do little to alter the jobless figure, it manages additionally to turn a blind eye to the social impact of 2.75 million people being out of work, more than a third of them for over a year.

This unwillingness to acknowledge the consequences of unemployment means that debate about general social policy is often inadequate. It is ridiculous to discuss the size of the welfare state, poverty, pensions policy, single parenthood or homelessness without making reference to the availability of work.

Thankfully, unemployment has begun to rise up the political agenda, as evidenced by President Bill Clinton's international 'Jobs' Summit' in Detroit last month. Moves to increase film censorship of video nasties suggest another outbreak of common sense. People are looking for genuine solutions. They do not want politically correct strategies that fly in the face of the obvious and fail to tackle the roots of Britain's social problems.

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