There was good news this week. The last Labour government made at least one sensible appointment. It recruited a mouthy and truculent girl called Louise Casey to deal with the problems of the underclass. She quickly got into trouble, for being mouthy and truculent. It was felt that senior civil servants should not talk like that. The critics had half a point. It is indeed true that most important civil servants should speak officialese, which is a cold, clipped, lapidary, precise and emotionless language. It is also true that the record of the senior civil service – and its political masters – in dealing with the underclass is easy to summarise. Useless. So a difficult, angry outsider could hardly do worse. She has in fact done a lot better.
According to her latest report, there are around 120,000 severely troubled families in this country who not only inflict misery on the surrounding community. They produce disturbed children who will hand on the baton. They are an hereditary aristocracy of disorder, crime, violence – and wasteful public expenditure. Most of these families cost the taxpayer around £75,000 a year each. With the worst ones, that can grow to £300,000.
Do I hear a voice at the back accusing me of sarcasm for referring to good news? If so, you are wrong. The key figures to focus on are 120,000 and £75,000. The latter is monstrously high: the former, encouragingly low. If there are really only 120,000 outstandingly abominable families, that is curable, especially with a budget of £9 billion a year (120,000 times £75,000).
There is an obvious and simple remedy, which has been rehearsed in this column before. Recruit a new cadre of social workers, largely drawn from middle-aged housewives, businessmen who have been sentenced to early retirement, retired policemen and those leaving the army. That said, the right sort of idealistic youngsters should not be discouraged and some existing social workers ought to be retained. The ethos of this new social work cadre is easy to define: tough love.
Paid a low basic salary, but with healthy bonuses for results, these social workers would effectively take over the afflicted families and run them as if they were a protectorate. Acting as the colonial power, they would liaise with schools, welfare agencies and the penal justice system. As all these "families" – most of them single mothers – are on benefit, that is the built-in sanction. On a weekly basis, there should be fines or rewards. When the children are young, there is also a potent threat. If the mother is incorrigibly useless, the children should be removed and handed over to foster parents.
But this programme should have carrot as well as stick. Many of these hopeless mothers are only confused kids. Lamentably nurtured themselves, they drifted into child-bearing and now find themselves trapped. The social workers would not only bring order and discipline; they would bring hope. Equally, fatherless boys need male role-models and ways to express their maleness. Get them out into the country; encourage them into adventurous, masculine, outward-bound type activities. If you bring up a rottweiler or a pit-bull terrier in a council flat, no-one will be surprised when you end up with a dangerous dog. Bring up a boy in a dingy council flat with a mum who has given up, her irregular and often violent boy friends, a school which neither commands his imagination nor compels his attendance, no sense that the future has much to offer, no source of self-esteem except a gang – and you wonder why he ends up as a dangerous criminal? (The girls are easier, though they need help too, if only to prevent them from turning into their mothers.)
This plan would have one other huge advantage. Tt would almost certainly violate the European Convention on Human Rights. South London is full of Leftie, shyster solicitors who would hate it, for two reasons. First, they would rather indulge their residual Marxist fantasies than agree to practical solutions for social problems. Second, they are afraid: no underclass, no clients, no income. They would swoop on the proposal like wasps – whom their morals emulate – on a picnic table. Under the current arrangements, they might win. It would probably be impossible to save the rest of us from the underclass and save them from themselves while remaining in the ECHR.
There are lots of reasons for wishing to repudiate it and all its works. Few would be more popular.
I have a friend who is a criminal Silk. He often defends murderers; I am glad to say that he is usually unsuccessful. After the jury has stood firm aginst his eloquence, he will go to say good-bye to his client. Usually, the new convict is a boy of 20 or so. It is still sinking into him that he has just been sentenced to serve 20 or so years in prison – with murder, the whole sentence is served – for stabbing one of his friends. That homicidal boy will almost always come from one of Louise Casey's families. He has taken a life, while destroying his own. But the rest of us have a share in his guilt. We acquiesced, when a human being was brought up as an animal. In a vastly rich and supoosedly civilised society, we did nothing to prevent a human being from becoming feral.
We could drastically reduce the problem of the feral underclass. If we are too feeble to do so, we have no right to complain about its depredations.