Should we pick up other people's litter?

Boy putting a can in a bin

Forget the general knowledge quiz, the most interesting part of the government's new citizenship booklet is that, for the first time, it sets out our civic responsibilities.

The UK government has always been strangely reluctant to spell out what is expected from its people. Citizenship has been an essentially passive legal status involving few demands beyond obeying the law.

But this new list goes beyond legal obligation to incorporate ideas of tolerance, impartiality, social justice and civic duty. This is what it says. If you wish to be a citizen of the United Kingdom you should:

  • respect and obey the law
  • respect the rights of others, including their right to their own opinions
  • treat others with fairness
  • look after yourself and your family
  • look after the area in which you live and the environment
British passport

In return, the UK offers:

  • freedom of belief and religion
  • freedom of speech
  • freedom from unfair discrimination
  • a right to a fair trial
  • a right to join in the election of a government

So the government sees the relationship between citizen and state as, effectively, a deal. But this list is different from the principles behind Britain's post-war social contract which embedded the idea of statutory responsibilities and individual rights. This makes it clear that both citizen and state have obligations.

They are civic duties which have clearly been constructed around the idea of British values: tolerance, fair play, respect for democracy and the rule of law. But do they add up to anything?

Start Quote

Look after the area in which you live and the environment”

End Quote Citizenship list

The concept of fairness, so engrained in current political rhetoric, is given its own civic bullet-point. Politicians, though, argue about what "fair" actually means, and without explanation one wonders whether this exhortation amounts to more than the equivalent of a mother telling her children to "be nice to each other".

The expectation that citizens should look after themselves and their family appears non-controversial - but there are some who may not be able to do that. The frail, the elderly, the sick and the disabled, those who cannot work for some reason beyond their control - these are citizens who may need help from wider society. Are they deemed to have failed in their civic duty?

For me, though the most interesting item on the list of civic responsibilities is the last one. Citizens are told they should "look after the area in which you live and the environment". This, one assumes, is more than reminding people of their legal duties not to drop litter or let their dog foul the pavement. It would appear to be an active rather than passive obligation.

If that is right, this is a great day for public space. Rather than seeing the management, upkeep and improvement of public space as a job solely for the state, this new booklet seems to be saying that it is something we should all be doing.

Rather than telling citizens they must not drop litter, it seems to be saying they should pick it up.

Mark Easton, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    "I admit to letting my dog poo wherever he wants when out for a walk.
    However dog poo is disgusting, so I ain't touching it."

    I'd say that makes you a pretty good citizen of somewhere so very not here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    127.tomjol "any evidence or reasoning to accuse fat people of being litterers?"
    Haven't you heard? Fat people (whose waistlines, according to certain Ministers, also identify them as poor and thick) are responsible for every conceivable social ill and problem. I'm surprised the new list of responsibilities doesn't include hurling abuse at them in the street, for their own good of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Mmm ... People not keen on my #237, saying I don't work for free while others get rich.

    Here's an idea to help you understand ...

    Why don't private companies like A4E or G4S volunteer to pick up the litter for free?

    Not much chance? - despite the millions they get from taxpayers?

    So if you don't expect them to do it, why do you expect me to work for free?

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    I live by a pub on a corner so get both dog walkers hanging poo in bags within my hedge, and on the plus side have acquired a large number of free pint glasses! These are now returned to the pub when I get a chance. To anyone in Shrewsbury who likes to put dog poo bags in my hedge please use my wheelie bin. It's in front of my house. By the hedge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    I admit to letting my dog poo wherever he wants when out for a walk.
    However dog poo is disgusting, so I ain't touching it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Okay, here's the facts (regardless of the 'civic duty directive') I don't drop litter, I don't like other people dropping litter, I don't want to see litter on my street. People use my street who do not live on my street. Some of those people drop litter. So, every now and then I take a bag and pick up the litter. I can't stop people dropping litter but I can make my own environment more pleasant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.


    "...I mean, how difficult is it to put your Maccy D rubbish in the bin?..."


    Given the filth the idiot has just blithely put into his own body, do you seriously think for one moment, there's the slightest chance he will care what he leaves in the civic surroundings?

  • Comment number 289.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    I just had to prise a soiled nappy from between my dog's overjoyed jaws. He had found it not 10 feet away from a bin in some bushes. Not impressed..

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Where I live there is a person who goes everywhere popping laminated cards under dog poo with a message saying "Irresponsible dog owner".

    Unlike the dog poo, the laminate cards are not bio-degradable. Its as dumb as those people who pick up dog poo from its place on the ground, tie it in a plastic bag and hang it on a tree for everyone to see.

    I should be given a license to kill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    How about a £50,000 fine for dropping litter to stop people from dropping further litter and for the litter already on the ground why not get those on benefits to earn it. Let's base on say £100 per day for benefits received. And when the country is nice and tidy benefit receivers can start on removing invasive species as listed in the banned species report from DEFRA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.


    I said it is one of the reasons.
    You are right and I agree hassling them is a good thing although bravery is needed.
    Another being that once dropped it is beyond most peoples idea of civic duty to pick it up. Because 'it's not mine', so they walk past it. Surely that's just another type of selfishness..
    So the piece of litter remains on the ground, month after month.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.


    I remember in my youth the spate of anti-litter campaigns, cartoons etc from the 90s. Whatever happened to those?
    They were binned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Would this test have made any difference to the gangs of individuals currently on trial around the country for abusing vulnerable young girls?

    Would them "talking the talk" make any difference to some of their cultural ideas of certain people being worthless?

    There should be some pyschological screening where people not open to fairness, integration and moral values are excluded and booted out

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Isn't it interesting that they have a responsibility to respect the law and one to respect peoples' opinions when we have laws to dictate some opinions?

    The government has NO right to decide what my responsibilities to society are and I see no reason to ask it of immigrants either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    I don't see anywhere that it is an obligation of the people to pay taxes.

    I also believe the government is reneging on its pledge to offer freedom of speech. We certainly do not have freedom of speech in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Practical solutions to practical problems and all that...

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    "There's something wrong somewhere here
    So through unclean streets I made my way
    With holes in my shoes and my children asleep at my feet
    I paid my way"
    We are all bourgeios now

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Good idea, they would stop going to UK too.. Two birds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    I remember in my youth the spate of anti-litter campaigns, cartoons etc from the 90s. Whatever happened to those?


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