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Bridging the generation gap

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Mark Easton | 20:15 UK time, Thursday, 7 August 2008

Burnley in Lancashire, scene of race riots in 2001, still has some of the worst community relations in the country, tensions blamed on social and ethnic segregation

But this week I went to Burnley to investigate what might be described as generational segregation - how the town's teenagers and adults live separate lives.

The Prince's Trust charity, which has a number of projects in the town, recently did a survey involving hundreds of teenagers there. What they found was Burnley's young people are turning to gangs for support and friendship because they lack parent and adult role models.

Two-thirds said they didn't consider either of their parents as someone they would wish to emulate and they are twice as likely to turn to a teenage mate than an adult if they had a problem.

Without the limits that adult society places upon them, young people can easily fall into anti-social or criminal behaviour. I met many young lads who rarely spoke to an adult - spending almost all their spare time on the streets

At a youth club where he does voluntary work, I asked 17-year-old Steven Jones how much time he spent with his parents. "None", he replied with a shrug. In the evening, he was out with his mates, returning home after his parents had gone to bed. And in the morning? "No, because I just get up and go out."

It is not just a Burnley problem, of course. There are tens of thousands of parents who cannot control their children and simply don't know where they are for much of the day and night. The young people may not want to spend time with their parents but it would be wrong to imagine they don't want adult company. They are desperate for more.

16-year-old Hayden Tomlinson told me how the workers at the youth club keep the lads on the straight and narrow. "You like to go out with your mates and stuff, but you do need adults there as well to keep it under control", he told me. "If this place it wasn't here we would all probably be near enough inside or ASBOed up and stuff", agreed Steven.

Another boy said the youth workers, unlike 'boring' parents, understood what young people were all about.

It is easy to blame the parents and many do. But then I met Sue - mother of 11-year-old Shane - and saw a woman who was on her own and struggling to cope.

"Sometimes he's out 'til 11 or quarter to 12 at night and I don't know where he is" she told me. "I have to go walking the streets late at night trying to find him."

We were chatting because Shane had gone missing - again. This time the police were touring the town looking for the youngster who was supposed to be attending a restorative justice session when he would be required to apologise to a victim of his behaviour.

The 'RJ' as police call it, is an alternative to a criminal justice response, but if Shane doesn't attend he could face arrest. The little boy already has an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC) to try to provide the boundaries his family life does not offer. Now an incident in which a piece of drain pipe hit a woman in the face could threaten everything.

We finally found Shane in a back alley - a tiny lad with big eyes and a cheeky grin... He'd been to Manchester on the train with a mate and had forgotten about the appointment. But then I wonder how many 11-year-old boys would manage such responsibility without adult help?

In the rangers' hut of a local park, Shane sat at a table with Carol, his mother at his side. "How do you think Mrs Gardiner felt", PC Dave Pascoe asked him. "Angry", Shane replied. "Sorry... Mrs Gardiner."

It was if the spell was broken. Shane's mum and Carol discovered they had both had problems with children and each had received help from social services. The Family Intervention project, they agreed, had been a life saver. If only it had been there earlier.

Meanwhile, Carol's young son Richard played tag with Shane - two innocents running around in the sunshine. What the police, local authority and agencies are doing in Burnley is trying to find ways to bridge the generation gap. When parents cannot cope, they bring the skills to keep young people out of serious trouble

17-year-old Hayley is a case in point. A year before I met her, the relationship with her parents got so bad she'd ended up homeless - trapped in a downward spiral of drink, drugs and crime. Then a firemen working with The Prince's Trust came to her rescue. "I look back now and it's like a film of people who, you know, go off the rails", Hayley says. "Twelve months ago that was me and now I am working full time and I've got myself a nice little flat."

Fire officer Graham Coxon reminded her about the long nights they'd spent together just talking things through. "You kept me up until 4.30 in the morning!", replied Hayley. "But it were worth it."

It was time invested in forging relationships between people from different generations - there's 40 years between Hayley and her fireman.

Mobility has made extended families a rarity in Britain. There is no grandpa around to take over when Mum cannot cope. No auntie who can be an honest broker in disputes. And so wider society needs to step in. It is not football pitches that youngsters are short of. It's football coaches. Not facilities but facilitators.

Young people want and need adults to provide them with the structure that too often family life cannot give them.


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  • 1. At 9:18pm on 07 Aug 2008, mistyevita wrote:

    "It is not football pitches that youngsters are short of. It's football coaches. Not facilities but facilitators."

    True, but you can't find adults who will work with kids especially males and the vicious circle continues.

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  • 2. At 9:57pm on 07 Aug 2008, pezspiller wrote:

    When it comes to problems with today's youth I always try and think back to when I was a child or teenager (quite a while ago - I am now 40). And then from there, I try and work out why things might be different now.

    When I was a teenager, I knew what it was to be embarrassed by my parents and of course, I thought they were a couple of old fogies - but I wouldn't try to avoid them whenever possible. I still respected them immensely and trusted them more than anybody else in the world.

    We were a classic nuclear family with our nearest relatives over 100 miles away - so no change there then. I can only think that what has changed is the early-years up bringing of so many children in recent years.

    Parenting has changed. And here's a guess - parents of today have lost their confidence and so substitute consistent, firm parenting with gadgets and toys.

    And it's a sad fact that people don't respect people who lack confidence.

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  • 3. At 11:54pm on 07 Aug 2008, BobinLeeds wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 00:05am on 08 Aug 2008, cormont wrote:

    Why on earth were 14 year olds denied the right to work,and,national service abolished.

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  • 5. At 00:30am on 08 Aug 2008, britcas wrote:

    I was born an bred in Burnley, and am frustrated and anoyed at the way the town is continually ignored. Burnley suffered greatly during the 70s and 80s and lost most of its employment base. Unlike areas like south and west yorkshire, Burnley has received little in the way of meaningful funding to attract new businesses. The housing stock is terribe and houses which could be refurbished are being taken over by the council to demolish leaving large sways of the town derelict. Youth clubs are all well and good but untill the communities wether it be Rosegrove Duke Bar stonyholme Harle Syke, comunicate with all the youth and stand up to what is right or wrong then nothing is going to improve. i was no angel and pushed as faras I could but a good pasting by my parents or a crack with a stick by one of the neigbours brought me into line. if no boundaries are set, or discipline installed, then youngsters will push the limits.

    Bring back employment opportunities and rejuvenate the town, then youngsters and their teenage parents! may have some life to look forward to

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  • 6. At 03:30am on 08 Aug 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:


    Bridging the Generation Gap, can be done with giving these young folks, some community connections and resources.

    i.e. mentors.

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  • 7. At 03:42am on 08 Aug 2008, parklaneender wrote:

    hey Mum and Dad - can't find your kid at night? - in the U.S. they solved that one - and recognized it was a social problem the communities should address - most towns have curfews for teenagers (passed supreme court muster as well) and a sign at the edge of town that tells you this, and the local police will pick them up and call you. result: no young hooligans running around at night (only old ones and all men)

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  • 8. At 07:09am on 08 Aug 2008, kencharman wrote:

    Sorry Mark but this you have been take in by liberal romantics. I was a youth worker in a successful east London youth club. It was successful precisely because we set standards for behaviour and did not show excessive understanding and tolerance. The teenagers needed to know their were definite rules and limits and consquences. We will not work our way out of this current mess with froth. You have to start with strict messages that are easily and quickly assimilated. Parents and teenagers need to know they will be held to account and will face real hardship that is equal to the harm they cause others if their behaviour does not measure up. This is even more expensive than community and social support but it is the only effective way back from where we have descended. However, as this is not a fashionable view amongst the think tankers I predict a lot more social breakdown ahead.

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  • 9. At 08:46am on 08 Aug 2008, peorgy wrote:

    Children have got to be taught about life,think about it like starting a new job or learning to drive they have got to taught
    If the parent or guardian, teacher,or even the bus driver does not show good example
    IE the majority of people do not say please or thank you so the children who grow up to be young adults think this normal

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  • 10. At 08:49am on 08 Aug 2008, lionHeretic wrote:

    I can only disagree with this article. Robert, you appear to be looking at reactionary solutions rather than trying to work out the cause in the first place.

    For example, in the case of the 11 year old boy, why did his mother not know where he is? When did this first start and why? Was it because his mum just stopped caring? Was just a young mum without the skills to raise a child? If so why did she have a baby in the first place, was this due to a lack of sex education?

    It is all well and good working to reduce the problems we already have but how are we going to prevent the potential problems of the future.

    As much as i hate to say this, near where I live there are many young mums (16-20) who just don't seem to care about their kids and let their kids run around until all hours. Until we work out why they had kids in the first place then these problems might not be solves long term.

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  • 11. At 10:11am on 08 Aug 2008, Sarah wrote:

    I agree, by the time you have an 11 year old child running around the streets at midnight, with his mother unable to stop him or having no idea where he is - something has clearly gone very wrong with the family, that is unlikely to be solved by football coaching and youth clubs. My parents were not over-protective, but I can't begin to imagine going out without my parents' permission at that age, or staying out so late. It wouldn't even have occurred to me to try it. At eighteen, maybe, but not at eleven!

    Same with the recent story about the tragic case where 9 and 10 year old boys were 'playing' by jumping on the back of moving trucks, and one unfortunately fell and was killed. These are not wayward teenagers, they're primary-school aged children, and I can't understand them being allowed to wander the streets all day without any adult supervision.

    I know parenting is not easy, and I do have sympathy for the young single mothers who clearly don't know what needs to be done to raise a child properly, or are not able to do it alone. They need more help and support, if only for the child's sake, but it has to start earlier if it's to have any real effect.

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  • 12. At 10:28am on 08 Aug 2008, WeLoveGrammar wrote:

    lionHeretic: Surely a 16 - 20 year old mother couldn't have a child whom roamed the streets so late at night? The youngest documented kept pregnancy in Britain is 12, is it not?

    (Ironic referral: This morning's Metro, in which a story of a child who runs away from home at 3 in the morning to buy chocolate from a supermarket miles away. The young'in was only 4.)

    Nevertheless, I rue the day that toddlers begin drinking, taking drugs and having intercourse.

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  • 13. At 12:36pm on 08 Aug 2008, lionHeretic wrote:


    Yes my bad, adding the 16 part was my error. However, I do know a girl whom is 20 years old with a 5 year old boy whom I see upto 500 or so meters from their home, by himself doing as he pleases.

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  • 14. At 1:00pm on 08 Aug 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    You've done some interesting comment on the current knife moral panic. Of course there is also the paedophile panic. How about this idea...

    Walking into the chip we stand aside to allow a woman and ~8 year old daughter to exit. My wife says 'enjoy your chips' to the little girl. Mother says 'nothing personal, I tell her not to talk to strangers' Oddly enough, as a man I would not have spoken to the child if I was on my own - might be mistaken for a pervert.

    As a man - would you speak to an 8 year old girl you don't know?

    What effect does it have when you get to teenage, and the whole of your life you have never spoken to an adult you don't know and the all the adults have been too afraid to speak to you?

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  • 15. At 2:41pm on 08 Aug 2008, tedyeoman wrote:

    #14 has an important point....

    If other men avoid speaking to young children for fear of being branded a pervert...
    If other men avoid speaking to teenagers for fear of being branded ... or asaulted in some other way ...
    If many youngsters are now growing up with no father figure in the home...

    Is it any wonder kids, especially boys, look to slightly older peers for role models

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  • 16. At 9:32pm on 08 Aug 2008, Draygalore wrote:

    Broken economy, broken families, broken society, all round misery.The older generation have memories of a much better time in this country.The youth are consigned to the scrap-heap of globalisation.Then we blame them for turning into delinquents.The blame is with the "liberal" politicians/media who have created this mess.

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  • 17. At 12:25pm on 09 Aug 2008, carefree999 wrote:

    It may not be popular but it doesn't take a genuis to realise that the main problem is society's move towards an attitude of no accountability.

    We all like to think that each of us is moral and well-balanced. But there is clearly a singlular lack of respect, social responsibility and general community mindedness. So much so, that to even be typing that makes me feel old fashioned. (I'm only 33!)

    Why are we even surprised that society is breaking down when we have intentionally told everyone to effectively work out their morals/responsibilities for themselves, and there is no right or wrong?

    On what basis is it wrong to steal, or vandalise, or assault? We are answerable to no one but ourselves for our morality and beliefs in what is right and wrong. If I think it is ok to beat up an old woman and steal her money, who are you to tell me I am wrong, and on what authority do you tell me your morals are better than mine? There is the law, but that's just an annoyance, it's not a genuine 'belief' in what is right.

    We need something to restore a real belief that right and wrong actually matters (and not just if you get caught!) No one actually thinks there are any consequences to them for their actions.

    Since, as a society, we lost a belief in God as an ultimate authority, we have no means of asserting a standard of right and wrong. Everything is just a matter of opinion. The truth is that we have left a void where God used to be and society now is the inevitable consequence of there being no answerability to someone greater than us. Somehow we need to either return to that(highly improbable) or find something equally compelling to make us want to follow the greater good (also unlikely since the greater good, rarely rewards in worldly ways).

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  • 18. At 5:37pm on 09 Aug 2008, stanilic wrote:

    We lost the extended family years ago and now we are losing the nuclear family.

    You are quite right children need structure and parents have to be the first to provide it, after that it is the responsibility of schools and wider society.

    Yet this is not reflected in legislation. In divorce law the feelings of the children are secondary to the `rights' of the parents. In the taxation and welfare system both single and married women are `encouraged' to go out and work regardless of the emotional needs of their children.

    I believe our society was broken by the last war. The degree of social mobilisation broke down extensive well-established social structures. After the war planning policies destroyed communities without a thought, and since then economic collapse has devastated what remained.

    We need to repair our society. It will not be done easily and it will take a very long time. But children need parents with time to spend with them. Ordinary people need to be encouraged to re-establish a sense of community, families need to be mended and, perhaps the key to it all, a sound economy offering permanent and valued employment.

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  • 19. At 00:36am on 10 Aug 2008, REALBURNLEY wrote:

    I find it really amusing when National Charities jump on to a bandwagon. The Prince's Trust received significant amounts of funding from Burnley Borough Council as well as other funders to work in Burnley, in the region of £300,000.00 and up until recently they have been nowhere to be seen. There has been no direct activity delivery in Burnley or Pendle with regards to the funding that they have received, when they struggle they showcase their other work which is delivered in partnership with the Fire Service.

    The findings in this report are nothing new, these findings were produced two years ago but because this is "The Prince's Trust" they think that they can weigh in to areas and say that they know best. The only experiences young people have had of The Prince's Trust in Burnley is that they are only interested in you as a number for their outputs, once you have completed a programme their is minimal contact with a young person and the majority of them just go back to square 1. Do not be fooled by their figures, the majority of young people that they first engage in are already on training schemes or education, they are a bit like what people used to say about David Cameron, "all show but no substance".

    The only reason they have come back in to Burnley is to rip off the taxpayer and pretend to the general public that they are doing a sterling job, in reality they are good at PR because they have contacts in the right places, at grass roots where it really matters they are nobodies.

    I hope such organisations will stop scaremongering communities in to reactive measures, they are currently seeking funding around knife crime, and allow people who have the knowledge to tackle issues around Social Capital and regeneration of communities to get on with the good work that they are doing instead of always trying to grab the headlines.

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  • 20. At 10:40am on 10 Aug 2008, singingvicar wrote:

    There is an excellent article on the essence of the solution to this problem at prospect mag:
    How to teach young people the essentials of good character. Interestingly, the author dismisses youth clubs for their lack of structure.

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  • 21. At 11:40pm on 10 Aug 2008, UKIntel wrote:

    Ref Comment 10.

    "As much as i hate to say this, near where I live there are many young mums (16-20) who just don't seem to care about their kids and let their kids run around until all hours. Until we work out why they had kids in the first place then these problems might not be solves long term".

    Pretty much agree.

    In answer to "Until we work out why they had kids in the first place", that is easy:

    Couldn't keep her legs together....

    Knew that if she was a single parent she would automatically be given a council flat ahead of everyone else....

    Knew that she would have everything given to her by the state without ever having to work for it...

    It was all society wot dun it to 'er innit?

    Bring back the workhouse and halve my income tax.

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  • 22. At 3:55pm on 11 Aug 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:


    I think that the government 'don't talk to strangers' campaign is one of the major contributers to the break down of society.
    As fair as i am aware the first time i remember seeing this slogan was the late 80's early 90's when i was about 6 or 7. from what i remember there seemed to be a huge push of this message which i believe has phycologically damaged an entire generation who now find that message so deeply embeded in their subconcious that there is almost complete social breakdown.

    I'm 24 from my experiances people of my age and younger have a particular disability when it comes to talking to stangers.


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  • 23. At 4:19pm on 11 Aug 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:

    This is of course only one small part in the tapistry of issues that cause these problems but never the less an important often overlooked one.

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  • 24. At 3:16pm on 13 Aug 2008, angelicAdrian wrote:

    Once again we find someone from the BBC managing to slag off Burnley as being a town without hope or anything at all. To state that we have some of the worst community relations in the country seems to me totally wrong. Having worked in Burnley for 13 years I find that Burnley is no different to any other town in the country including the South East, the South West, the North West, or the North East or even the Midlands. So for Mark Easton to make that comment is totally wrong; it does not have the worst community relations in the country.
    The comments that are made by the young people are comments that will be made by young people in virtually every town and city in our nation. It is what part of being a teenager is about, rebelling against adulthood etc. etc. I see many great things happening in this town. There have been problems and we are still working through those problems, but there are many, many people of good will of all ages seeking to work together to build our community up. What would be good would be for the BBC for once, to come and give a positive spin on our town and show what good things are happening and give our people some encouragement. If not, then it would be good if the BBC would simply keep out of the town.

    Keith Richardson, Reverend
    Superintendent Minister of the Burnley Methodist Circuit.

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  • 25. At 3:18pm on 13 Aug 2008, angelicAdrian wrote:

    In Response to Mark Easton report

    The Central Methodist Church Basement Project

    It never seems to be reported the positive contributions and achievements made by the youth of Burnley. The Basement Project is one excellent example where young peoples drive and enthusiasm has resulted in a
    purpose built Non Alcoholic Nightclub where achievements have been recorded for some 2500
    Young people. Young people who attended sessions in the last five years have been given advice and
    guidance, I.C.T Support, whilst some have found training places and employment.

    Many have completed sessions around drug , alcohol, art, community issues in a safe environment where the culture has been set by the youth themselves. There are many other examples of positive work being carried out in Burnley where the young people deserve the credit for participating, learning and achieving in a town that has seen immense changes. Lets try to go to the best in situations and continue to build a positive Burnley and world rather than a negative stereotype, remembering that education and lifelong learning will continue to produce fruit for all young people in all towns across the country.

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  • 26. At 09:27am on 09 Sep 2008, angelofthenorth wrote:

    As usual @ #21, it's about blaming the mothers for working. There's next to nothing about where the fathers are, or blaming the fathers for wanting and having sex (to get the young mums pregnant in the first place). If men didn't want sex, then women wouldn't get pregnant.

    How about supporting policies that allow a parent to stay with the family, and making it non-gender specific?

    How about family-friendly policies that assume equal parenting, rather than that the woman will do all the work, and in so doing encourage equal parenting?

    Certainly we've lost cohesion. However, whose is the generation that has been in power? I think we need to look at the baby-boomers for the tone that they've set and the behaviours they've encouraged. What we have now is a natural progression.

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  • 27. At 1:34pm on 22 Sep 2008, ONGAKUSHA wrote:

    Yesterday was Open House in London, an irresistible invitation to go through forbidden doors. It’s part of our nosey nature; when you’re strolling along is there anything more fascinating than a lighted window with the curtains open? It’s so hypnotic you could crack your toe on a pillar box.
    Our first call was to be City Hall and I wondered if we’d see where Boris has his hair undressed. Being hobbled with arthritis and other senile delights we drove there hoping to find a few inches of uncontrolled space. We were lucky and found a virgin spot within tottering distance of this strange edifice. (Don’t ask, the decrepit must be allowed some secrets)

    Having passed the open door and a frisking worthy of Heathrow we were soon at the top. The unruly sun was on his best behaviour and gave us a dazzling view of Tower Bridge and the White Tower on one side and down at my old school on the other. Now there’s a challenge – an old school in Tooley Street, that mountain range of glass and concrete? Yes, like a hedgehog asleep on the M25 lies the modest elegance of a late Victorian building that once was St Olave’s Grammar School. But now with the fives courts demolished and the playground sprouting foundations, it’s clinging desperately to its Grade 2 status, under siege from the dreaded developer

    It’s 72 years almost to the day when I walked into that building for the first time in September 1936. After six years at Bostall Lane elementary school in Abbey Wood, I’d passed what we called matric with enough marks to get an LCC Junior County Scholarship. The school still rears its proud head , but with a prouder name, Alexander McLeod, the pioneer of the cooperative movement, chosen because the RACS had built the estate nearby. We lived in one of its little terrace houses in McLeod Road and my father worked for it as a clerk at head office in Woolwich.

    Parents today will groan that with that scholarship my parents could choose virtually any grant-aided school in London. On the advice of my clever Uncle Tom they picked St Olave’s, although Abbey Wood was right on the border of Kent about 10 miles from Tooley Street. But it has a station and armed with a cut-price season ticket I went, alone of course, to catch the Southern Railway 8.06 that reached London Bridge 32 minutes later. I went down the steps into Tooley Street and reeled at the noise and the smells. On the left were the warehouses and wharves by the Thames, crammed with imported foodstuffs, not always exactly fresh; from the other side came the rich bouquet of a brewery and the stink of the tanneries. It’s tempting to mourn the end of a throbbing life where people made things compared with the glittering fantasy world that Tooley Street had become. But yesterday the fantasy and the glitter were turning into a tawdry nightmare before our eyes, as we gazed across the river at the City where the generals were looking for were trying to plug the gaps in the line left by their foot-soldiers There’s talk of a slump, of a depression like the 30s when I started school in Tooley Street. But the throbbing life I saw then was also a fantasy when reality was widespread poverty and deprivation..

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  • 28. At 09:44am on 23 Sep 2008, ONGAKUSHA wrote:

    Further to my previous post I've been looking at the statistics for crime in 1932 when the great depression was well established and many were afflicted by poverty and deprivation. In that year the population of greater London was 8,302,000. The number of males aged 16-20 who were convicted of violent crime was 45.

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  • 29. At 10:34am on 23 Sep 2008, ONGAKUSHA wrote:

    To clarify my previous comment - the figure of 45 was for first offences of violent crime by males aged 16-20.

    The total number of persons, male and female who were convicted of indictable offences in Greater London for the whole year of 1932 was 12,902.

    The number of convictions in London for the month of January 2008 was 71,795. This is when the people of London at all levels had a standard of living beyond anything the people of 1932 could have dreamt of. The population of London today is around the 1932 figure of 8 mn so the figures show that convictions for crime today are more than 66 times what they were in poverty-stricken London of 1932.

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  • 30. At 06:52am on 25 Sep 2008, scawbyman wrote:

    With regard to the comparison between convictions in 1932 compared to today we should remember that conviction rates are not crime rates, crime could have been much worse but unsolved or less reported or less documented.

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