55% of parents married when first child born, statistics reveal

This headline demonstrates that marriage is still by some distance the most common relationship status for parents, for first and all subsequent births.  This information is drawn from the Millennium Cohort Study, which holds a wealth of data on the lives of nearly 19,000 babies born in England and Wales between 1 September 2000 and 31 August 2001.[1]   The table and graph below[2] demonstrate not only that marriage is the most common parental status for first births, but that incidence of marriage rises to more than 68% for subsequent births.

What is more, the study is purposely deigned to be disproportionately representative of areas of England and Wales with higher than average levels of child poverty and also areas with higher than average ethnic minority representation.[3] This is relevant in that even when taking account for groups where marriage could be seen as less customary it still remains by far the most usual parental status in regard to childbirth.

In addition, it is striking to note just how popular marriage is in comparison to the next highest parental status, cohabitation. It would be interesting to understand more about why couples clearly believe marriage to be preferable to other relationship types when raising children. Although the Millennium Cohort Study doesn’t delve into this area, other studies have pointed to the unique stability marriage brings, irrespective of other factors such as age and income.[4] Whilst acknowledging that these factors can have an impact in regard to stability, it is interesting to note both couples’ preference for marriage and the link therein to increased stability.

Given the above, one would perhaps expect the government to do more to recognise and promote both marriage and family stability. In this regard, the government did commit to introducing a transferable tax allowance for married couples in the Coalition Agreement, yet at present this commitment has yet to be met. [5] This is somewhat puzzling given that this policy both recognises the importance of marriage and is progressive in disproportionately favouring poorer families.[6]

All in all, the Millennium Cohort Study makes it clear that marriage is far and away the most popular context in which to bring up children. Given this reality, it will be intriguing to observe how in terms of policy commitments the Coalition Government addresses marriage and married families with children.

[2] Data taken from Millennium Cohort Study, Wave 2 (child aged 3 years)

[4] See for example Benson, Married and unmarried family breakdown. Key statistics explained, 2010. Available viahttp://www.bcft.co.uk/2010%20Family%20policy,%20breakdown%20and%20structure.pdf

[5] The Coalition Agreement, Cabinet Office, 2010, p.32

[6]  Figure 4.4, Adam et al, Taxes and Benefits: The Parties plans, 2010 election briefing note no.13, IFS, 2010.

The Changing Face of our Households

adult children living at homeOver the course of the last century, our nation (and indeed much of western civilisation) has become increasingly mechanised, industrialised and subject to an ever-hastening pace of technological development. Indeed, as western society has changed, the structure of our households has changed along with it. Much has been written about the apparent rise of cohabitation and the growing number of single person households[1]. However, the focus of this article is the increase in the number of young adults (20-34) living with their parents. We will first look at what the numbers tell us before moving on to talk about possible causes and finally discussing some of the implications.

The available data on this topic is certainly interesting. In the UK for instance, a survey carried out by Aviva demonstrated that in 2011, 73% of those asked said they had lived with an adult relative at some point, with most of the 73% identifying themselves as young adults living with their parents.[2] This trend is backed up by data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which indicates a 20% increase in young adults living with their parents between 1997 and 2011.[3] What is more, this marked increase is despite the population of this age group staying largely the same during this period.

There are numerous claims as to the reason for this change. Some argue that the recent financial downturn has resulted in young adults no longer having the financial capital to move into their own home as early as might have been the case in the past.[4] This is despite it apparently being cheaper than ever to purchase a home.[5]However, this is heavily contingent on the ability to muster together a deposit, which most agree is far more problematic than before the financial crisis. Regardless of one’s desire or ability to move into their own home however (whether rented or purchased), the evidence suggests that there are substantial personal savings to be made from young adults living with their parents, some £225 per month according to Aviva.[6]

Quite apart from the economic factors, there are social and cultural considerations to ponder too. Some identify a period of ‘prolonged adolescence’ that is becoming increasingly normalised among young adults. In other words, many argue that young adults today simply do not want to ‘grow up’ and become ‘proper’ adults.[7] Others point to shifts in cultural norms, marriage being a key example. Whilst in the past it was deemed conventional to move out and get married in one’s mid 20′s, many in this age bracket are now putting this off until a later point in their lives.[8] Another aspect that has apparently shifted over the course of time is that of expectation. That is, certain young adults aspire and expect to move out into a home of similar ‘quality’ to that of their parents.[9] Whilst this is deemed unattainable (presumably due to the current housing market), many choose the relative comfort of the parental home until such aspirations become realistic.

Having explored just a few of the reasons behind the changes we have seen, we now turn to consider the implications of such behaviour. On the positive side, many parents whose adult children now live with them report reduced levels of loneliness[10]; something which The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is a prevalent issue throughout the UK.[11] Furthermore, some parents also note that having adult children around the household can lead to a sharing of caring responsibilities.[12]

On the other hand, some argue that many young adults, by living with their parents, aren’t caring enough! Whilst they are happy to reap the benefits of living in the parental home, some are perhaps unwilling to ‘pull their weight’ in undertaking routine households tasks.[13]

Furthermore, some parents say that as a result of their children ‘flying the nest’ at a later point, their own finances can suffer quite considerably.[14] This is food for thought given the social pressure some parents may feel to allow their children to remain living at home; particularly if they feel the child would be under significant financial stress if they were to leave the family home.

It is clear that, as has always been the case, today’s households are reacting to economic realities, social shifts in attitudes and changing cultural norms. The fact that households are changing in tandem with the changing views of how young adults view themselves and others, has profound implications for a number of individuals and groups. What is altogether harder to fathom however is whether this change is positive, negative or a bit of both? Are young adults reacting sensibly to tough economic times and a hostile housing market? Are they reacting to and catering for the changing emotional and physical needs of their parents? Or is there an abdication of responsibility where perhaps there wasn’t in the past?  Are young adults in an increasingly consumerist and materialist culture expecting too much in terms of where they expect to move out to? In an environment where the topics of housing provision and prices are increasingly up for debate and where family budgets are under scrutiny, these are all crucial questions for young adults, parents, government and society to answer.

[1]    Family Law, Number of Cohabiting Couples increased to 2.9 million in last decade, 2012. Accessed August 2012: http://www.familylaw.co.uk/articles/CohabitingFamiliesIncrease20012012-653

[2]    Osborne, Economic pressures drive young adults home to roost, The Guardian, 2012. Accessed August 2012:http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/aug/22/economic-pressures-young-adults-home-to-roost

[3]    Office for National Statistics, Young adults living with parents in the UK – 2011, 2012. Accessed August 2012:http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/young-adults-living-with-parents/2011/young-adults-rpt.html

[4]    Osborne, August 2012

[5]    Collinson, Average cost of buying home falls to lowest in 15 years, The Guardian, 2012. Accessed August 2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/aug/27/cost-buying-home-mortages-lowest-15-years

[6]    Osborne, August 2012

[7]    Parsons, Why so many 20 year olds are failing to grow up, The Daily Mail, 2012, Accessed August 2012:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2181789/Why-20-year-olds-failing-grow-up.html

[8]    Office for National Statistics, Statistical Bulletin: Marriages in England and Wales 2010, 2012, p.7

[9]    Brown, Boomers go bust over kids, Sydney Morning Herald, 2011, Accessed August 2012:http://www.smh.com.au/money/planning/boomers-go-bust-over-kids-20110910-1k2rs.html

[10]  Osborne, August 2012

[11]  Hurrell, How can communities find their own ways to reduce loneliness?, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2011, Accessed August 2012: http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2011/08/how-can-communities-find-their-own-ways-reduce-loneliness

[12]  Osborne, August 2012

[13]  Parsons, August 2012

[14]  Brown, August 2012

Media reaction to Michael Winterbottom’s new film – ‘Everyday’

EverydayDebuting at the London Film Festival, Michael Winterbottom’s ‘Everyday’, was screened on Channel 4 earlier this month. Filmed over five years, it follows a family affected by the imprisonment of the father, played by John Simm. Shirley Henderson starred as his isolated partner, while the children were played by four real-life siblings who we see growing up as the film progresses.

On the whole, mainstream media reaction has been positive with the film receiving 4 out of 5 stars by both The Guardian and Evening Standard. On the Guardian website, writer Catherine Shoard in commenting on the Films depiction of the effect of imprisonment on family life says:

‘In showing the accumulating effect of Simm’s imprisonment, Winterbottom has made a film that’s almost unbearably moving. Rarely is one quite so intimately involved with people about whom one knows so little.’

David Sexton, writing for the London Evening Standard meanwhile, draws particular attention to the fact that ‘Everyday’ as much as being a film about Imprisonment is also about Family life:

‘The sole subject here is the family and how such a long separation can be survived: specifically, what, in such circumstances — the brief meetings, in prison visits and then on parole days — are like. ‘

This could have been your average prison drama, all nasty warders and slamming doors. But it’s not.’

Dave Calhoun, of Time Out London also chooses to pick up on this theme of Family Life in his comprehensively positive review of Winterbottom’s offering. He, like Sexton, argues that as opposed to being a story primarily about Crime or everyday life inside the UK Prison system, Everyday is first and foremost:

A tender study of a fractured family adapting to new circumstances ‘

Whilst many critics felt engaged by ‘Everyday’, others did not, one critic writing that he struggled to feel involved and engage with the primary characters in this offering. Hence, rather than feeling ‘unbearably moved’ like The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard, David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews pulls no punches in saying:

The movie remains hopelessly uninvolving for much of its brief-yet-not-brief-enough running time’

It’s only as time progresses that Everyday slowly-but-surely begins to morph into a curiously tedious piece of work, with Winterbottom and Coriat’s uneventful and increasingly repetitive sensibilities resulting in an absence of momentum that’s nothing short of disastrous.’

Thus, whilst in some senses Everday has divided critics, with some feeling wholly engaged by the family, and others not, the majority of the critical reaction to this new UK offering has been very positive. Intriguingly, many of Everyday’s advocates felt that the film’s excellence came from the fact that it focussed on the life and dynamics of a family undeniably affected by a father’s imprisonment, and how this is liable to change over the passage of time.

Payment-by-results: Groundbreaking innovation or government gimmick?

Of all the Coalition’s new ideas regarding how to cut reoffending, and how to inspire foundational behavioural change in offenders, payment-by-results (PBR) is probably the initiative that has gained the most attention, both in academic and media circles.

At present, PBR pilots are currently operational in a number of establishments across England and Wales, including HMP Peterborough and HMP Doncaster. As well as these prison trials, there are a number of community, work programme and innovation pilots that have been announced by the Ministry of Justice.

For those that are unsure exactly what ‘payment-by-results’ is, it can be defined as ‘providers from the private, public and voluntary sectors working  in partnership with the government to innovate and invest in programmes that work to rehabilitate offenders  and are paid by the results they deliver.’

At the outset, this raises an obvious question. Can an initiative aiming to bring about widespread reductions in reoffending and seeking to attribute change in an offender’s behaviour to a particular programme be compatible with desistance theory? That is, the notion that the individual ultimately owns their own change, or potential change in offending behaviour, thus meaning that any programme can only create the environment to encourage change, and not actually ‘own’ it outright?

This rather meaty query was discussed at length at the recent Safe Ground symposium at the House of Lords, at which Richard Garside, Director of the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies, stated that he was sceptical that payment by results could deliver desistance because of the way in which some of the smaller charities operate. That is, due to these smaller voluntary organisations having very tight cash-flows, it is perhaps difficult for them to operate in an environment when payment isn’t given until ‘results’ can be seen to have been achieved. He also commented that payment by results would mean that ‘risk’ is transferred from the public sector and larger organisations in the private sector to the smaller voluntary sector organisations. He noted that ‘results’ could be hard to quantify, particularly in the short term. Finally, Richard expressed concern that a ‘black box’ approach would mean that information sharing regarding best practice would be hard to realise in a ‘payment by results’ environment which is primarily concerned with ‘what works’ rather than ‘how’ or ‘why’.

Digby Griffith, Director of National Operational Services for NOMS, on the other hand, gave tentative support to payment by results arguing that the ‘market’ could introduce and drive innovation in terms of desistance, although he stopped short of saying that this approach would definitely work. He confirmed that up-front payment would be provided for the service with extra 5-10% awarded if the particular intervention ‘works’, although exactly how reoffending will be measured remains up for discussion. Digby also added that larger providers in order to provide a desired integration of services might have to conduct business with some of the smaller organisations.

Indeed, the issues raised by both panellists have come to the fore recently, as the Greater London Authority has robustly denied that it covered up findings of a draft report into a reoffending scheme at Feltham Young Offenders Institution backed by current mayor Boris Johnson which criticised the payment-by results model as the scheme lacked sufficient up front funding. Interestingly, the report said that members of the organisation, Rathbone, sometimes felt conflicted between pushing for their targets to be reached (in terms of reoffending) and meeting the needs of the young involved with the particular programme.

At such an early stage, it is impossible to know whether the payment-by-results model can deliver reductions in reoffending.  With the prison population continuing to escalate, the need for innovative policies is all too apparent yet there remain serious question marks over the models compatibility with desistance theory and with a criminal justice system still reeling from the Chancellor’s axe.  A report on the planning and early implementation of the Social Impact Bond at HMP Peterborough allayed concerns over the attribution of results where several agencies are delivering interventions in overlapping areas and it is inevitable that the metrics selected to define success will be contested by some as partial or insufficient.[1] This sense of uncertainty was reflected in a questionnaire completed by over 50 attendees representing a broad range of agencies at Safe Ground’s symposium, in which 24% agreed that PBR and desistance theory could operate harmoniously, 48% disagreed and 28% felt undecided.

Certainly there are many issues to be clarified, some of which will take time as the system finds its legs. Yet if evaluations of the pilots demonstrate so much as a modicum of success, it is likely to pre-empt a seismic shift in the delivery of criminal justice in this country, for better or for worse.

[1] RAND Europe (2011), Lessons learned from the planning and early implementation of the Social Impact Bond at HMP Peterborough. Ministry of Justice. London, Stationery Office

Prisoner Voting, Rehabilitation and the Europe Question

If nothing else, the question of whether prisoners should be allowed to vote has certainly raised a few pulses in political, media and social circles lately. The recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) dictating that prisoners should be allowed to vote in elections (albeit with the caveat that UK ministers can choose which prisoners can vote) and the UK parliament’s overt intention to ignore this dictate (see David Cameron’s recent comments on the issue) contributes much to debates around incarceration, basic civic rights and prisoner personal development. One could even go as far as to say that this debate has relevance to Britain’s place within the ‘European Project’ itself.

In regard to incarceration, it is interesting to note that in conveying arguments against allowing prisoners the vote, many commentators and politicians have expressed the view that because prisoners are in prison to be punished, and to be deterred from committing crime, the incarceration that goes hand in hand with these aims should mean that they shouldn’t be allowed the vote. In other words, many feel that the process of a person entering custody should go hand in hand with the loss of certain human rights (as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights). Alternatively, some, whilst accepting that certain human rights are indeed separate from the loss of liberty, still believe it reasonable for the human right to vote to be taken away whilst someone is in prison. Interestingly, it is clear that most of Parliament registers with either or both of these views given the outcome of the vote on this issue in February 2011,  where only 22 MP’s voted in favour of giving prisoners the right to vote in elections.

In discussing the issue of incarceration and its link to basic human rights, it is crucial that we understand and clearly define what prison is and what its fundamental aims are. If a person has broken the law, in full knowledge that if they are caught, charged and convicted for the offence then they could be incarcerated (thus incurring a loss of liberty the outcome of incarceration is arguably justified. Therefore, if the penal system does only have a mandate to curtail one’s liberty, then serious questions have to be asked when the penal system is seemingly acting beyond this mandate and intervening in other areas.

To elaborate further, we need to ask ourselves what exactly is prison for? If it should as well as a place of punishment, incapacitation and deterrence be a place of personal development, then the issue of whether to allow prisoners the vote becomes increasingly relevant. A widely accepted part of personal development has been to attempt to get prisoners ready to re-enter society and actively engage within it. As such, allowing prisoners the vote plays a key role here. That is to say, given that voting in elections is a key way to demonstrate civic and social engagement it surely makes sense that prisoners whilst they are in prison are allowed to vote in preparation for their release into wider society where these people be expected and encouraged to do this. In other words, it is arguably helpful to think of giving prisoners the vote as an issue of ‘good citizenship’. If we want prisoners to emerge from incarceration and actively engage in society, then it surely makes sense that this group are informed, allowed and encouraged within the prison environment to participate in the democratic process.

More broadly, this whole debate feeds into a wider debate about the role of Europe, and in particular the role of the ECHR in protecting the human rights of EU citizens. Two interesting issues arise here. Firstly, what does the recent rejection of the ruling on prisoner voting rights by the UK Parliament say about how many in the House of Commons regard the UK’s relationship with the European Union generally? And secondly, what does this ruling say about how the UK parliament feels about the ECHR in particular? That is, in regard to dealing with human rights issues, the government clearly feels that it can choose to enact or ignore certain rulings that aren’t to its liking. In this case, the government arguably believes that certain unpopular minorities (prisoners in this case) should be denied basic freedoms, despite these prisoners already being punished via their loss of liberty in prison.

All in all, despite strong opinion to the contrary, one would argue that all prisoners should be allowed the vote. Denying prisoners this right goes beyond the remit of the penal system (to restrict the liberty of the prisoner), raises questions about the UK’s relationship with Europe in regard to upholding human rights (particularly in relation to ‘unpopular’ minorities) and most importantly, has the potential to both stop the civic engagement of the prisoner within custody and negatively impact upon the prisoners rehabilitative prospects after leaving prison.

NB: The following link gives the list of all MPs who voted on whether to support the current situation, where prisoners are not allowed to vote and ignore the ECHR ruling.


Chav Scum

Susan was a woman, that much was obvious; indeed many a passer-by would quip to one another ‘that ones a woman!’ But really, Susan was much, much more than merely a woman. Susan was a woman multi faceted, with many an edge, virtue, perspiring with guile and purpose.

She was a consummate professional yes, but her friends would tell you she had quite a temper, this however is irrelevant. They would also say she enjoyed a socially acceptable, socially mobile drink or two, as did they of course, for as everyone knows, as long as you wear a nice flowery dress, debilitating alcoholism is absolutely wicked. They would tell you that on a Thursday evening Susan enjoyed a spot of Volleyball, nothing remotely racist there then. Even the tiniest suggestion of such would have Susan’s pals stoutly pointing out her pioneering work in broadening the diversity streams at the office. ‘What office is that’ I here you cry? Silence!

Yes Susan was indeed many things, but she wasn’t a Chav, oh no, for Susan shopped at Debenhams.

That ladies and/or gentlemen is rather an irreverent and irrelevant way of introducing the topic I wish to discuss; Chavs. Firstly, how do we define a ‘chav?’ And secondly, why do we in this so called age of equality condemn all Chavs to the stark and lowly status of ‘scum’? Has this downtredding of a sector of our society gone unnoticed by the ‘PC brigade?’ If I was to call an ethnic minority or a homosexual ‘scum’ then I’m sure I’d literally be eaten alive by the PC monster. So, if I was to do the same towards a chav, then why do we not fear such devouring? It’s clear in my view to see how the first two questions are linked. That is, we define Chavs (subtlely or not so subtlely) in such a way, attaching certain attitudes and preconceptions to them, therefore allowing others to refer to and permanently label them as a large source of ‘scum’ in society.

According to Wikipedia (yes I know, my sources are the business) media perception and my own observations, Chavs, on the face of it can be defined and identified by the clothing they purchase (or steal, as the ‘haters’ would have it.) Particular brands, such as Mackenzie and Burberry are alleged to be almost without exception the preserve of Chavs. Thus the identification of the said scourge in Britain is patently simple for any interested observer. On reflection this is important, in that arguably so much these days is placed upon image; it is not so much ‘you are what you eat’ but ‘you are what you wear.’ I am not for one minute advocating we judge each other conclusively on this basis. Hopefully as this article continues you will see I argue the opposite, but I think it is true to say we can all at times be guilty of attaching negative assumptions and stereotypes upon certain groups of people based largely on the way they choose to dress. And I think in the case of Chavs, these assumptions and stereotypes are broadly negative. The question is though, are these connotations that arise in our minds when we see a Chav fair?

Well, we could then go on to ask ‘what is ‘fair?’ We could then blissfully remind ourselves of that advert with the American dude in glasses saying that a certain bank was fair, and then base our view of fairness upon that…. I digress. For the purposes of this article fair will mean ‘an accurate reflection and/or a high probability of something being true, based on another seemingly unrelated factor.’ An operational example of this could be the following hypothesis: The more Mackenzie branded clothing in one’s wardrobe (the unrelated factor) the more likely they are to be a Chav. See graph at top of page.

So, if we agree that being dubbed a Chav is generally a bad thing, then surely even the briefest glance at the graph above we can see how strange, absurd and distinctly unfair it is to condemn one to ‘Chavhood’ purely based on what they choose to wear!

Ah, but as raised earlier ‘you are what you wear’ comes the chortling reply. Well no actually, I myself at times elect to wear the odd pair of tracksuit bottoms, white trainers and even when I’m at my most deviant a hoodie! Does this make me a Chav? That is, one who partakes in unsociable behaviour and drinking on random street corners (more on these two things and more later)? And this is my point; I don’t choose to dress myself in this attire because one boring, dreary Friday evening I decide for a laugh I wish to commit some petty theft. I choose to wear such items because they are comfortable and functional. Is it a crime against society to put on these comfortable and functional things because they may, or may not offend people’s sentiments? Call me a hopeless romantic but I like to think we react to actual behaviour, character and personality rather than to the clothing decisions one makes.

Ok so let’s look in more at actual behaviour. We could say that a Chav could be defined not only by the clothes they wear but more crucially by the way they choose to conduct themselves. Let’s say for example that a Chav is a human being who chooses to commit petty crime (shop lifting for example) and who makes the conscious decision to be a nuisance wherever and whenever possible. And let’s assume for arguments sake that someone of a more ‘Chavy disposition’ commits more crime and deviant ‘naughtyness’ than one who maybe isn’t. Thus, is it then fair to say that because someone is a Chav they will (or are more likely to) commit crime? We then get to this appearance issue discussed earlier. If we see someone who we suspect of being guilty of being a Chav, then is it fair to automatically assume they will commit crime, even if we haven’t seen them commit anything like a crime ever?! The UK as a country might not be perfect but at least we have the principal ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to attain to. This very democratic virtue applies here, yes Chavs might commit crime, but how can we deduce as much just by looking at them?

What is also worthy of consideration here is the evident diversity and ‘seriousness’ of crime. One thing I learnt working at the Ministry of Justice for a year (whilst I wasn’t eating cake or on the BBC football website) was that crime when statistically recorded is split into various categories, ranging from your ‘less serious’ nicking a Mars bar offence to your more disturbing sexual and violent type offence. What is more, various categories of crime are committed by different groups of people, depending on age, gender and ethnicity (just to mention a few.) Couple this, with what some would call the criminal behaviour of our MP’s, and we can see that crime, in whatever form is not totally beyond any given group of people. If we were to encounter a man in a shirt and tie, or woman in a trendy pencil skirt, would we tense up inside and fear for our internal organs? I certainly wouldn’t. Yet if confronted by what looks like a lesser spotted Chav, I know my reaction in the past and even to a lesser extent today would be quite different! But why?

‘Ok then Binder, maybe not ALL Chavs commit ‘crime’ per se, but they’re certainly a nuisance, shouting about, drinking their alchopops, swearing like you wouldn’t believe, vomiting on kittens, all on my street corner! You wouldn’t catch my Harry doing that at University you know!’ To that I’d say, ‘Well Mrs Featherbottom, I have in fact caught your Harry (in a net) doing just that! In fact I saw him this very Saturday gregariously knocking back his fair share of alcohol, or ‘bevies’ as they are trendily called these days. I also saw him simultaneously swear a few times, and get this; he threw up the entire contents of his stomach on a granny!’ Harry, as you’ve might have guessed by now is metaphorical, but nonetheless relatable to a few of us in one way or another; including me on that one fateful Sunday evening (never again since then I can assure you.) The point here is not that taking part in the above activities is ‘wrong’ (I think it is wrong by the way, that some say we can only be deemed to be having fun only when we’re off our tits, but that’s for another day) but that to put down others, Chav or otherwise for essentially doing the same thing seems to me to be a tad hypocritical. It seems to me that we in the first breath jump on the ‘Chavs are sub human animals’ band wagon, and in the second we champion behaviour seen at specially put on student events around the country as ‘character building’, ‘banter’ and ‘a normal and integral part of being a student.’ It’s baffling how incredibly similar behaviour can be treated so differently!

So, if what has been said so far holds any validity then why else do we choose to deride Chavs? So far I have looked at just some of the social and cultural arguments surrounding the subject of ‘Chav hate’ (or whatever you wish to call it.) But maybe for the vast majority who scorn and scoff, the reasons for mocking are neither complex nor rational. Could it be that Chavs simply exist to make the Middle Class (if that even exists anymore) or anyone who ‘isn’t a Chav’ feel good? We’ve had a bad day at work/uni/college/school/pilates, and whereas in previous times we were told to kick our cat (or ‘a’ cat if we didn’t actually own one ourselves, a stray perhaps?) we now choose to kick a Chav. I am of course speaking metaphorically. If we were to actually kick a Chav in the flesh we might get chased and bitten, thus running the risk of catching rabies. This argument (not the ‘we’ll catch rabies’ one, the ‘it makes us feel good one) intertwines itself with others raised in this article. We may not know personally the ones we so hastily deride, but because they are an ‘easy target’ we do so. If we rant and rave against a Chav we almost without exception will not as be excreted on by our peers for being a racist, homophobe or a bit ‘wrong.’ We may even get extra approval points from our mates for ripping it out of a drooling hoodlum incredulously lurking in our midst. Doing either of these things seems all so easy and acceptable, but does that make it right?

‘We may not know personally the ones we so hastily deride’ holds a particular resonance here in that it is so often the case that we view one another (and maybe even ourselves) as an end, rather than a means to an end. We see, comprehend and judge the behaviour of one another as an entity in itself, as something in total isolation to anything else. For example, we see a man shouting and gesturing at another violently in a street corner, we judge that behaviour as negative and we may therefore see that person as conclusively negative. I believe we sometimes neglect to consider the events that lead to that person being particularly aggressive, nasty, rude or whatever. In extreme cases such events could include the bullying he endured for 4 years at the local secondary school, or seeing at 6 years old his mother dying on a hospital bed after being run after by a drunk driver. These particular events then, are the means to the end. By the same token, particularly traumatic events in one’s past do not justify traumatic events that they then go on to initiate, that is not an argument I wish to try and justify here. Indeed, it would not be fair to say that everyone who has had a tough childhood goes on to become a masochistic mass murderer, nor would be fair to say that masochistic mass murderer’s difficult childhood justifies his mass murdering activities. Nonetheless, not everyone in life is lucky enough to enjoy a stable childhood, good mental health or a happy social life (plus many more factors) and some (not all) of these people who may have not been so lucky, may be dubbed as Chavs, worth thinking about before indulging in some ‘harmless’ stress relief.

The point I am trying to (laboriously) make is that ‘threatening behaviour’ seen to have been committed by Chavs isn’t necessarily just, fair or ‘ok’ but if we consider the reasons for it, it may become more understandable, and hopefully as a result we can become more empathetic towards Chavs, this in turn meaning we don’t have to live in resentment of them. And I believe that if this empathy or understanding can be achieved, however negligibly, then our society as a whole will be the better for it.

I suppose it’s logical that this sense of threat or fear of Chavs is exacerbated somewhat when they congregate in intimidating and nasty ‘herds’ (much more nasty and intimidating than their cow like counterparts.) Keeping this in mind, and going back to the Mrs Featherbottom illustration, it might even be the case that despite not actually seeing these herds commit any atrocity, we assume that inevitably they will at some stage because it’s ‘in their blood.’ These herds then are as cited earlier ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ And because influences such as the media and in some cases our own personal experiences tell we’ll be killed if we go within 100 metres of these herds, we choose to conspicuously cross the road or stare the other way, or ‘power walk’ past.. It is biologically understandable that if we feel threatened and are considerably outnumbered, we flee, for fear of being eaten alive, or whatever.

The question is though, is this sense of threat exacerbated when a Chav is part of a ‘Chav herd?’ Logic and biology would again tell us yes. When one is against ten, the chances of ‘victory’ (coming though the other side with their Ipod, mobile phone and internal organs still in full working order) for the individual one are significantly diminished, that is of course presuming their will be an altercation of some sort. Groups or ‘herds’ are key to this article, in that Chavs appear at their most menacing and attract the most criticism from onlookers when they are present in groups. As cited above, this is perhaps understandable, but only on the assumption they carry that inevitable ‘threat’, which as I’ve argued throughout, might not always, or even most the time, be the case. But if we can agree that a sense of ‘belonging’ is a good thing (see the government report, ‘Building a local sense of belonging’) then why is it unreasonable to expect a group of Chavs to hang around together? Should they be deprived of social interaction with likeminded people? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to have mates with similar interests? The problem of course comes, when the ‘threat’ of violence becomes real, and similar interests includes things like throwing eggs at houses, setting fire to bins and the like. No one, not least me would try and defend such actions as harmless social interaction. Yet, it seems all too easy to deride and be clench our buttocks fiercely when faced by a group of ‘scary looking’ people who aren’t in reality doing anything wrong. Would for instance, our buttocks be equally unyielding if on one wet Tuesday we encountered the Biggleswade Bridge club lurking in a shady alleyway?

To conclude then, I feel it is important to make a few things clear, ‘for the record’ if you will. Firstly, this article is not an attempt to excuse anti social behaviour. I am aware that it can be a nuisance and can make the lives of those it effects a living hell. Nor am I expecting any crime committed by a Chav, regardless of seriousness to be brushed aside, and it seems perfectly logical that if you have been mugged by a Chav (or anyone else for that matter) then you are likely to be more than a little wary (at least in the immediate aftermath) when encountering someone who looks similar to your attacker, Chav or otherwise. Thirdly, I can assure with utter sincerity that I am not a Brigadier General (is that even an official rank?) of the PC army of Great Britain. I do not want the World to be ‘magnolia’ or ‘beige,’ holding hands in a big ‘World sized’ circle, continuously singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ over and over again. For of course the remotely controversial joke is one thing, but the immediate stereotyping and downtredding of a group of people is completely another.

And it is the latter of which I am sceptical. If we go back to the original aims of the article; the first of which was to establish a definition for Chavs, then what I was told by a friend; that Chav is a shortened version of ‘Council house and violence’ goes quite a long way to explain the link between the definition of a ‘Chav’ and how we comprehend that sector of society. Are we really saying that all people from council homes are simultaneously committed to a life of violence?! ‘Of course not!’ chimes the indignant reply, but as raised earlier treating Chavs with contempt, even as a casual put down is somewhat confusing and worrying. Chavs, like most in society, are people too, with their own priorities, goals and worries. Also, as with all humanity, these creatures (believe it or not) are capable of experiencing and sharing both positive and negative emotions, and can play a constructive role in our society. It seems all too often that when talking about Chavs in particular it seems we forget these facts.

American Beauty film review

What is the point of film? Is it to entertain, to amuse, to teach or to question elements of our society which we as human beings deem ‘normal’? Indeed, film in its much earlier form was conceived to distract the populace from the hum drum monotony of everyday life. The same can arguably be said of much of the film produced today. Whether it be Bond defeating the bad guys or the Jonas Brothers making young teenage girls giggle with excitement the same fundamental motives are there; to entertain a mass audience and bring in the reddies. So, when a film manages to entertain without being too shallow, to amuse without being forgettable, to teach without being preachy and to question without being condemning it is justifiably worthy of mention. This is precisely the reason why American Beauty is such a worthy watch and is labelled by yours truly as a classic.

In more succinct terms, American Beauty succeeds greatly in making a relevant and poignant social statement for our time. It succeeds in getting behind the exterior appearances of 21st century post modernism. Yet to the greater credit of director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball American Beauty makes this sincere and serious statement whilst being able to deliver wonderful and consistent black comedy moments. This then is a key difference between American Beauty and other societal themed offerings. The latter can sometimes leave a guilty and sour taste in the mouth of the viewer. American Beauty whilst being a challenging watch certainly is not culpable of this.

The ability to make an impact on the viewer whilst also being rather light hearted is encapsulated in Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham. Lester, whilst being rather droll and an instrument of amusement is the central character through which the points of the film are made. A paradoxical statement this may be, yet paradoxes are a key pillar of American Beauty. They are present throughout and are created with a brilliant effortlessness, giving it an ebb and flow throughout its 110 minute screen time.

Despite the superb performance by Kevin Spacey the efforts of the other characters are very commendable indeed. There are many intertwining individuals and stories here, each of them are explored fully and you therefore get to know intimately the situations of each of the ‘supporting’ characters, and more importantly the crucial points they have to make throughout the picture. Each part has been cast superbly, and this contributes to the balanced nature of American Beauty, we are therefore not relying on Spacey as a central character to deliver the important punch lines or laughs.

One irritation of this epic is the that a number of these key players in rebelling against the exterior based Western society, seem to become rather self centred, doing what only satisfies their innermost desires, and disregarding the feelings and needs of others which are dependent upon them. Yet, the beauty of American Beauty (no pun intended) is that the script allows and fosters noticeable imperfections to creep into these characters. This perhaps contributes to the wholly relatable nature of this picture. Thus, none of these characters despite their righteous rebellions are protected from failure and suffering.

In conclusion, American Beauty is a classic for many reasons, not least the reason that despite being made nearly ten years ago it is still vividly relevant for today’s audience, exploring issues around success, image and self worth without being preachy in the slightest. What is also extremely impressive about this offering, is its subtle pointing to the fact that there might be something else more important in life than money, possessions and external beauty. Also, in the current financial climate, it is terrific value for money! I got my copy for two quid off Ebay!