Letter: Juvenile Delinquents

Greenford, Middlesex.
Dear Sir,
The article by G. R. Russell on the above subject will do little to further the cause of Socialism as both Sir Hartley Shawcross and Mr. Ewen Montague spoke the truth.
I live on a Council Estate which is really well laid out, grass plots and verges, tree lined roads, and good gardens and there is a Park less than five minutes away where the children can play any game they like. The houses are well built, have parquet floors, central heating, half tiled kitchens, lavatories and bathrooms. The tenants include teachers, store managers, civil servants, etc., etc. Hardly a house (except my own) has less than £15 per week coming in.
One would think that under such circumstances the children would play in the Park and other open spaces provided, but do they? Oh no, it’s the streets, sitting in the gutters and on the grass plots under the shadow of notices prohibiting such action.
Not long ago three of the boys watched a family go out and promptly broke in, stealing money and articles. Opposite me, a house was being built privately; a work hut with glass along one side, was erected and within five minutes of the owner leaving not a pane was left intact. Later bricks, neatly stacked, were scattered to the four winds and later still, the entire glass in the windows had to be renewed three times. They even broke in and knocked holes in the dividing walls.
Was all this due to “environment” of either parents or children? Was it hell. It was due to lack of parental control and failure in home and school to teach the difference between “Mine” and “Thine.”
Yours faithfully,
B. S. Anderson.

The article to which our correspondent refers (“Juvenile Delinquents Again.” July S.S.) commented on the question posed in the Yorkshire Post as to whether the current “light regard for morals or a weakening sense of responsibility” may be encouraged by “something in the nature of the society we have built up.” Our contributor, in his article, answered the question with a yes! and dismissed as superficial Sir Hartley Shawcross’s and Mr. Ewen Montague’s attitude of laying the blame on parents without mention of “environment and conditions of poverty.”

It is true that our contributor illustrated his case against the capitalist environment in which we live by examples of bad housing and sunless streets, etc., but the case is not against merely the worst conditions but against capitalism itself.

Our correspondent’s examples taken from an area where the workers are more highly paid and better housed does not meet the Socialist case.

To start with, we would want to know much more about the problems of the parents who live there than the bare statement that most of the homes are believed to have £15 a week coming in (not exactly a princely sum to meet the cost of a family anyway). How many wage earners are there to a household; how many of the wives have to go out to work; what are the outgoings on rent and mortgages. A recent article on the similar troubles of the new town of Stevenage may give us a clue. It is a brand new town, with brand new houses, but, says the local Catholic priest. “Families are up to the neck in debt and their big worry is only whether they can keep the HP. going on the telly” (Empire News, 10th August, 1958). The same article instances a family of six with an income of £13 18s., but after paying for rent, food and other outgoings (including 57s. for rent and 17s. 6d. HP. repayments on T.V. and carpets) all they have left to buy clothes “and daily titbits,” etc., is 31s. 3d. a week.

But these are only a small part of the “environment” with which we, as Socialists, are concerned. The children of rich and poor live in different kinds of houses and neighbourhoods, but they all, and their parents too, live in a world given over to wholesale waste, personal and governmental, and to destruction, instability and the ever present threat of war.

Our correspondent wants the parents and teachers to shoulder their responsibility of teaching the difference between “mine” and “thine”; but how will this solve the problem? He asks them to hold with conviction and pass on to the young, the faith that respect for property is of paramount importance for their happiness. But how can the adults or the young find this a sufficient doctrine against the background of capitalism which constitutes the environment in which they live.


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