Letter: Travellers in need of tolerance

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Sir: The 'New Age Travellers' are symptomatic of a number of significant changes in both the social and cultural structures of British society in the last two decades.

Citizenship is experienced through the world of work and participation in key institutions of society. But social, political and economic change, together with large-scale unemployment, have rendered large numbers of young people relatively valueless on the labour market, and in consequence many have become the core of a new, welfare-dependent underclass. Virtually excluded from the world of work and participation in other key institutions, they have come progressively to reject their legitimacy.

Urban riots, 'hotting', 'ram- raiding', drug abuse, or the gratuitously aggressive trespass, which first assaults the peace of the countryside with its raucous music and then leaves it defiled with insanitary litter, are various symptoms of the alienation of thousands of the young in Britain. The immediate social cost of these hedonistic pursuits is a burden for the community at large; worse, this negativistic culture is becoming established in a new generation knowing little beyond inner city dereliction, poverty or the peripatetic wretchedness of the so-called 'convoys'.

In the short run, the problems of public order cannot be sidestepped. But crisis policing and variations in the basis of welfare benefits are essentially short-term measures; what is needed, before these things become irreversible, is a strategic social policy. Without it, John Major's ideal of a classless society will wither and significant areas of social life in Britain will degenerate into the kind of squalid and violent incivility that characterises the underclass in the United States.

Yours faithfully,


Professor of Social Institutions

The London School of Economics and Political Science

London, WC2

12 August