Dumbed-down Britain accentuates social ills

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 12:00am

As if to underline my conviction about the decline of British social standards came last week's announcement that the government was introducing on-the-spot fines for drunken yobs.

Just a couple of weeks earlier on a trip back to Britain I'd seen and heard all about this particular manifestation of the country's rising social problems.

Drinking binges appear to happen every night of the week in city centres with young people seeming to think it's cool to get hugely drunk and then urinate and vomit all over the pavement.

Alcohol is blamed for about half of all violent crime in Britain, with up to 70 per cent of emergency hospital admissions at weekends due to excessive drinking, Reuters reported last week.

Happy hours are encouraging binge drinking and stoking what Prime Minister Tony Blair has called 'a new British disease'.

But drinking is actually just one of a whole array of new British 'diseases' it would seem.

Another is something which we have all read about but really only strikes you when you walk the streets - obesity.

It is so bad that there are times when you wish the all-encompassing Afghan burqa was in vogue, just for some relief from the sight of women in hipsters and tiny tank tops with a wobbly midriff showing.

The statistics are damning enough: Britain's Medical Research Council says half of all adults are overweight and one in five are obese, compared with one in 10 in France.

But I was still shocked at what I saw: fat men, women and children waddling around my home town of Telford, swaying from side to side.

Ever since I moved to Delhi to be a foreign correspondent, I've been going back to England regularly but I've never seen so much obesity.

Maybe it is as a result of food, like British culture, being proletarianised. This general dumbing down is prompting many Britons to seek a more civilised haven in France where the working classes eat better (and more elegantly) than any working-class Briton and where people are not yet embarrassed about enjoying high culture.

Certainly, class differences in food have always been extreme in Britain but now they seem worse than ever.

Factory workers and council house occupants purportedly live off a diet of pork pies, chips and burgers while the middle class fiddle around with wild rocket leaves and balsamic vinegar.

The rise in teenage pregnancies also has a class slant to it. According to the Family Policy Studies Centre, women in deprived areas are six times more likely to get pregnant by the age of 20 than those in the most affluent areas.

However, some things have improved. For example, restaurants and supermarkets do now offer a wider selection of food for those who don't want burgers and chips three times a day.

I had a fantastic meal at the National Film Theatre. The only problem was I had to queue for 20 minutes rather than being served by a waiter.

The lack of service is symptomatic of the rampant cost-cutting by British companies, leading to long queues in banks, building societies and shops.

If you are in, say Marks and Spencer, and want to ask a shop assistant if they have something in a different size, you can peer into the distant horizon and find no one willing to help.

Another change for the worse I noticed was high stress levels among friends.

With everyone on short-term contracts yet weighed down by mortgage repayments, people look insecure and tense.

'It's all this rushing around on the Tube, the crowds, the weekly shop, the coming home to organise dinner and do the dishes.

'There's no time during the week to relax. And London is just so damned expensive,' moaned Andrew, a financial journalist friend of mine.

The biggest shock was when I tuned into reality television show Big Brother where a random group of contestants are thrown into a house to see what ensues.

I have never seen anything so appalling.

This dumbing down of society is proceeding so fast that any attempt at halting it seems doomed.




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