The Estates themselves are part of the problem. There are a number of blocks that are particularly bad. They were built cheaply in the first place and are coming to the end of their life. They can house up to 600 or 700 people with just one common entrance. The walkways are covered in moss and mould. The lights never work. The lift never works. The security door never works. People are coming in and out all the time and hanging around. People who you can’t identify. Coming home through them, you smell their smoke and drugs. Some of the elderly people will not come out of their flats. Even some of the young people are scared.
The blocks were badly designed in the first place. You dare not open the windows for fear of being burgled from the long walkways they open on to. So the flats suffer from condensation and rot. The kitchen fittings are dodgy. None have showers: this is costly when the money spent on electricity can make all the difference to people’s finances here. The rubbish chutes are too small; so people throw rubbish out of their window. None of the blocks of flats are sound proofed so even if your neighbour is not trying to annoy you with music, they cannot help it. Their existence makes noise for you. Some of the estate backs on to the railway line. The rat condition there is insurmountable: one of the best things that can happen to you on our estate is to be housed higher up: the rats haven’t got there yet.
One of the estates which was built for only 1,100 people now houses 1,450 people. There are a lot of Moroccans, a lot of blacks. Everybody there is poor. Whenever we have a residents meeting, you hear of desperate issues from the overcrowding. It leads to anti-social behaviour and it has an impact on how young people behave. I ask them, “what are you doing out? It’s three o’clock in the morning?” They say that’s because everybody’s in my house, there’s no peace, no quiet and no privacy. There is nowhere for them to do school work. There are few public amenities.
Most of the flats are built in such a way that nobody can sit around a table and have that kind of family connection. There is no room for a table. That’s where families have discussions, where parents give attitudes to their children. That has not gone on here. If you look at how we live here, we all eat our dinner off our laps. Families start to not eat together because there is no point. Then children just stay out. So there are implications for the relationship between parents and their children as well as for their diet. If children come home and their parents are cooking them food, it changes their opinion about their parents. It establishes their dependency on them. A conversation goes on. It gives the parent authority. They can start to say to them, “you need to come in for dinner”. They can start setting rules and boundaries. In a situation where your mother and your father cook for you there is big symbolism in the fact that they provide for you, you talk to them, you get input from adults who are there for you because they are your parents. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen here.
Poor parents and the poverty of aspiration.
Many of the young people I deal with have never spent any meaningful time with their mother or their father. That defines them. Their parents didn’t do anything with them and they weren’t given anything by them. They no longer have a set of family rules that they run by.
If you go to social services and check the records often there is nobody new there. What you see is people from the third, fourth and fifth generations of the same family. Because you are talking about someone’s mother who was involved. And their mother was involved. There is a real culture of dependency amongst the people on these estates. There is no attempt to break it. The real reason it is so bad is because people expect to be housed and expect never to be kicked out.
It is getting worse with every generation. You see the real forming of subclasses in the black community that is mirrored in the white community. We’ve got people who were bad as children. Now they will be even worse as parents. One of the most corrosive aspects is the low expectation of parents. Nothing happens if you don’t look after your child. The law protects you. Society does not frown on you. Too much of our policy around young people is nothing to do with their parents. You need to get their parents involved. Some parents need compelling, some need supporting. But all parents need to be involved. And all parents need to have responsibility, need to feel the pain, if their teenagers are offending. Parents need to be told that there are higher expectations of them.
In turn, they need to have higher expectations of their children. Compare what the well-off expect from their children with what the poor think they can achieve: it is so vastly different that it is unbelievable. Parents say to me that their children have more respect for me than they do for them. I say it is because I have got more to say to them. Many a parent here treats their child like a friend. They let them raise themselves. This gives the peer group more power. They don’t have the full facts to communicate to their children to counter it. That’s how children grow up too fast. But it’s also the other way around: they are growing up too slowly. Kids here are very immature. Their maturity is stunted by the fact that they are allowed to grow up too quickly – they are put in adult situations, given adult levels of money, given adult responsibility before they have the emotional stability to deal with it.
If you talk to those families where children are behaving the worst, you find that the kids have no rules and no boundaries. The reason is that the parents have never had any point at which to set them out – to put them in place. It should start from birth. It goes wrong when they have no routine when their child is a baby; then it goes into the young years; and then into the teen years. Some parents seem to think that they have a choice as to whether they look after their kids. But they have no choice. If they don’t put in the time, they will be visiting their child in a prison, a mental asylum or a morgue.
I often say to younger parents of babies that if you don’t get hold of your child now, forget it when he is 14. You won’t be able to impose rules on him then if you can’t now. The parents I speak to do not find parenting easy. They ask me how to do it. They lack information and practical support. The ethos around parents has to be changed to: “You’ve had the children; now they are your responsibility, you have a societal and a community responsibility to look after that child. We will support you in that but if you don’t look after them there will be come-back.”
The promotion of single parenthood
None of this is helped by the lack of married families – except among the Muslim community and some of the older whites. Marriage does not exist amongst the black community. It is why we have so many problems with the men.People with our lives, in our circles, understand that you are better off if you are a single parent. It has reached the point where you get a lot of people who are not single parents but who present themselves in that manner because it makes financial sense. If anybody thinks that people like us don’t sit around and have these discussions they are deluding themselves.
We soon figure out which way it will make us the most money. And that’s an example of how we are trapped by government policy. Because it discourages us from raising our children in nuclear families. The nuclear family should be the norm. It might not be any more, but it is an ideal to aim for. But if you have to be estranged from your father in order to survive financially there’s a problem. If you talk to young people, they all support marriage. There are very few who say they wouldn’t get married, especially among women. But they are used to not being given that commitment.
Men need some of that power back. This is very important for black men – to be more than partially responsible for their family. If they don’t have to fully support their family, it becomes a war between what you want as a man, and what your family needs as a unit. It’s a constant conflict and you swing between the two. I see lots of men. One week they are really up on their family, then the next week when they want to be out with the boys, making some money, then the family is secondary to what they want to do.
The example of Celebrity
The music our children listen to says you are not worth anything unless you have lots of money: your worth is directly related to the money you have in your pocket.