The Bad News Is That the Nation's Feeling Miserable Still. the Good News Is That the Family Is Alive and Very Well

Article excerpt

Let us examine a typical British family. The Glums. Of Orpington. The Glums of Halifax used to be even more morose, but we're all one nation now. According, that is, to the 13th volume of British Social Attitudes (SCPR/Dartmouth Publishing, [pounds]25), out this week and her-alded as the Rolls-Royce of public opinion surveys.

The North-South divide has been almost abolished, it asserts. On the social weather map, the frontal trough is deeper over Surrey than Lancashire, with southerners now far more concerned than northerners about unemployment.

There is no feelgood factor anywhere. No perception of social fairness. Almost unanimously, people think that the gap between high and low incomes has never been so offensive.

And what are the solutions? There is no warmth towards the flexible labour market so beloved of the government. Six out often of the unemployed will not take an "unacceptable job (compared with four out of ten in the recession-hit early eighties) and few - in work or not - wish to retrain. We do want higher taxes (ideally, but not necessarily, someone else's), and more spending on health and education.

We glory in our past, while six out often of us think our current economic achievements are abysmal. Two-thirds favour more import controls and restrictions on immigration. Those who want a single European currency have dwindled from 40 per cent to 32 per cent in a year.

This evidence of a new breed of Little Englander, repressed and repressive, would appear to have spilled into broadcasting. Many of us are deeply troubled by sex on TV and dislike "sexual swearing" even more. Three out of ten adults, for instance, would not allow their 15-year-old child to watch a heterosexual sex scene in an educational film. Just a quarter would condone older teenagers watching what they see as "gratuitous" sex on television, and only half concede that sex is permissible if "plot-based".

This sounds hard-line, considering what most children actually watch on television. But sex is a difficult issue on which to get straightforward answers, even in an anonymous questionnaire. We find it hard to discuss sex honestly as an influence on our children's lives. In theory, we wish to protect their innocence, even if in practice we condone a 12-year old watching a 15 video.

This part of the survey, I imagine, indicates that people may dissemble on very private matters rather than suggesting a new mood of prudishness or illiberality. On other social issues, for instance, we are remarkably unfettered. …