One of my biggest shocks after leaving London two years ago was again sighting the white working-class people who have mostly vanished from our capital. Really I mean underclass as they didn’t look as if they were working. They looked remarkably alike, the young women obese with lank hair scraped back. They all pushed buggies containing small grey-faced infants. The men tended to be very skinny and haggard.
My first close encounter with one of these girls was disturbing. She sat near me on a bus with a boy of about three He hardly moved and kept moaning in pain. I pointed this out as politely as I could. She said he was and run about The boy s eyes began rolling backwards I told her with as much authority as is proper these days to get him to a doctor We re waiting for the paediatrician she said obviously parroting some health worker You should have seen what he was like this morning Then she showed me photos of him covered in blood He d woken up like that she said jiggling him about off I felt sick wondering what I could do to help hoping her mother was off to see someone sensible I have often wondered since if that boy is still alive
Yesterday, it was reported that a simple test at the age of three can determine whether a child will grow up to be a burden on society needing excessive welfare ending up in jail becoming obese or all of those. Scientists at Kings College London followed more than 1000 children from pre-school until the age of 38 to find out if it was possible to predict their life chances. The infants were given a 46-minute test to gauge intelligence language and motor skills levels of tolerance restlessness impulsivity and social disadvantage.
It was found that one fifth of the group was responsible for 81 per three quarters of drug prescriptions. This cohort also received two thirds of benefit payments and more than half of all nights in hospital. This disproportion could be predicted it turned out simply by looking at which children had attained the lowest test scores aged three. The conclusion was that if children at greatest risk can be identified interventions could be made to prevent them slipping into a life where they become a burden on the state
The salient word here is surely interventions What exactly should these be? Perhaps the young mother I met on the bus should have been sterilised her child denied even a start to his wretched life?
Yet unlike the Malthusians in the 19th century or the eugenicists in the early 20th we do not want to impose controls on individual behaviour.
Forcing the mother on the bus to feed and educate her child properly might have been one solution. But our liberal ideology long ago abandoned imposing formal education cookery classes or nutritious school meals on to the poor. Girls no longer learn to cook as that is sexist and children choose what they want to eat.
Some will remember details in the details in the case of baby . One social worker on
seeing Peter s face smeared with chocolate did not think she had the right to tell the IIl0iher to clean him UD If She had she would have seen the gooey mess disguising deep bruises.
Underlying this absurd reticence is a more fundamental weakness:
educated middle class people have abandoned the moral authority they once had What morality is and who holds it is hotly contested. During the in northern towns the police and social services ignored rape, rather than criticise Asian men They even believed children should be able to choose to become prostitutes as a lifestyle choice .
If we really want to help three-year-olds become decent citizens, however we will have to decide what our values are and insist on everyone upholding them.
Instead as a nation we are trapped in a liberal bind’ the sacred autonomy of the individual means it is very difficult to intervene to prevent harm. So we are going to have to wrestle with our entrenched liberal ethos. Liberals do not tell people what to do.They ignore human weakness unless it breaks the law But to put it honestly, that attitude only robs poor children of opportunity – and costs us a fortune