08.08.1993

Disease of ‘the Social’

Disease of ‘the Social’
 
LYNETTE BURROWS
 
SURELY the most impor­tant point to emerge from the case of the young mother who left her child unattended all day in order to go out to work is that she did not consider going to the social services department for help. It is as though a householder, find­ing his family held hostage by a desperado, decided to try to raise the ransom and free his family without recourse to the police or any other arm of the law. The absurdity of the situation would be underlined if the public response to such a course of action was to blame the man for his way of handling the situation — but not for having circumvented the police.
 
So it is with this unfort­unate young woman who has now been sent to prison for her failings as a mother. We can certainly blame her for the way she handled her problem but, with their recent history of causing grief and upset in countless families, who can blame her for not trusting social workers? She no doubt feared that if she called them in, she might lose her child; and indeed, as soon as they appeared on the scene, she did.
 
The fear and loathing that many ordinary people feel for "the Social" is doubly ironic because it is an org­anisation in which women figure to a more than usual extent. Far from their pres­ence in such numbers mak­ing the institution more user-friendly and sympath­etic to women's needs, as ardent feminists used to tell us it would, it appears to have made it uniquely antagonistic to women in the home.
 
In every one of the scan­dals involving the peremp­tory seizure of children and the consequent anguish of both them and their parents, officious, doctrinaire women have figured promi­nently. Indeed, it is prob­ably true to say that men on their own simply would not have dared to be so high­handed with mothers; order­ing them to abandon tried and tested methods of managing children, for example, or imposing ridic­ulous regulations upon small playgroups and home- run nurseries, childminders and foster parents.
 
That they have been given the time and the money to pursue parents who do not conform to their theories —but not to help them when they are in dire straits — is the clearest sign that they are, in effect, so misdirected as to be largely useless. It would probably be better if they were not present at all in certain areas and if their power to order and intimi­date was severely restricted in others. If people have come to see them as the stormtroopers of the wel­fare state, it is time to dis­band them.
 
THE Western world is beginning to have seri­ous misgivings about the effects of immorality and family breakdown on public life. There are com­munities in the United States where the most com­mon cause of death is by murder; where disease and mortality rates are worse than in the Third World; and where young women have illegitimate children as a matter of course and keep themselves by prostitution and selling drugs.
 
We are beginning to see the first signs of such an underclass developing here, with the proliferation of drugs, guns and prostitution in some inner-city areas, and a national illegitimacy rate that is climbing fast towards 30 per cent. How­ever, despite the amount of interest and concern that such sensational findings attract, I do not think I have read an article that offered a solution, or even made a new suggestion, as to how the trend towards collapse and degeneration could be reversed in these communi­ties. Commentators simply have no answers except the old ones offered 20 years ago, which have failed in the short-term here and in the much longer term in America.
 
One should bear these things in mind when reach­ing for the "outraged res­ponse button" as one reads about the British couple imprisoned by the religious police in the United Arab Emirates. The woman had left her husband for another man, taking her children with her, and had subseq­uently had another child while still not divorced. All this is fairly routine stuff for our society, but the Arabs value the family and know that it takes more than pious sentiments to protect it.
 
It is not, therefore, an uncivilised thing that the Arabs have done; it is merely harsh. It is also undoubtedly effective, and that is what they care about. They cannot afford the immense charge put on the public purse by the casual­ties of liberalism, any more than we could hundreds of years ago when we had sanc­tions that were of a different kind, but scarcely less severe.
 
Rather as Judge Jeffreys said in the 17th century: "We do not hang people for stealing horses; we hang them so that there shall be no horse thieves." The Arabs punish people who break their laws, even in small ways, because they do not want to end up like Washington. It may be tough, but only time will tell whether it is really any worse in the end.
 
I MET an American social­ist the other day who had an original theory about political correctness. Far from it being a Left-wing movement, he saw it as a Right-wing plot that has mo­bilised the thickest people in society to maintain vocif­erously PC principles and alienate any sensible person who might be inclined to sympathise with a Left-wing point of view. "They might as well have cut out our tongues," he said. "They make all the running while we are completely gagged." Every cloud has a silver lining.