Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Respect soundbite (updated) The other day the Evening Standard asked me for some words on the subject of respect, in the light of the Pilkington case and the prime minister's reassertion of some kind of policy on anti-social behaviour. I've no idea what was published but having put scarce brainpower into the exercise, I thought I'd leave the words here. The government has done a great deal to improve the living environments of many people on low incomes, and that should be applauded. But the relentless association of anti-social behaviour with ‘problem estates’ is distasteful. It’s not hard to point to incivilities and ASB among the privileged and professional classes. The Pilkington case seems to be about local enforcement of existing measures, so people are right to be suspicious that it is being used to prompt policy. I suspect that the neighbours of the Pilkingtons may feel they might have provided support and perhaps intervened, if they were more connected to one another and believed that official support was there to call on. So why do so many people not feel that they can call on their neighbours in time of need? We hear all the assertions about parenting contracts and Drinking Banning Orders and interventions at the family level, but in many neighbourhoods there is very little interaction among residents. We occupy our cars more and our neighbourhoods less. Children can’t play in the street within site of neighbours who know them and know their parents. We are losing our local shops and our pavements are covered in cars. The Respect agenda was based on shaming, but we know that doesn’t work. Residents need to feel empowered to take action collectively, confident that official powers will back them up. Schemes are needed – seeded at local level - that promote informal contact and interaction between all residents in an area. Footnote - catching up with yesterday's Thought for the day on R4 (Presenter: Rhidian Brook, Subject: 'We have a responsibility to our neighbours') reminded me that about a year ago I wrote to the programme suggesting that neighbourliness might be an important theme and would they like an offering? I didn't mention religion, and I didn't get a reply.

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