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Living with social evils

Street market
Published: June 2009


We spoke to people whose voices normally go unheard about their experience of social evils and their ideas about possible individual and collective solutions.

What are social evils?

There are ten social evils identified by an earlier phase of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation including a decline of community, individualism, consumerism and greed.


How people experience social evils

  • Participants felt isolated by the breakdown of important neighbourly and family relationships and the decline of moral values.
  • People believed a rise in selfishness and the influence of celebrity culture were negatively affecting society.
  • People of all ages had been affected by misuse of drugs and alcohol, which was closely related to their experience of family breakdown, poverty and crime and violence.
  • Younger participants felt they were negatively stereotyped as troublemakers.
  • All age groups had some experience of poverty and said that it had held them back in their lives.
  • People believed immigration brought some economic benefits but complained that immigrants were given unfair priority for housing, employment and benefits.

How people cope with social evils

  • Some participants coped by staying positive, not thinking about their situation or venting frustration emotionally or through physical activity. Others coped through escapism – such as alcohol – or by turning to violence or crime.
  • People also turned to family, friends and support services in the search for support.

What should be done about social evils?

  • Participants believed the government had a key role to play in addressing social evils by enforcing discipline, educating families and distributing wealth more fairly.
  • People wanted less glamorisation of celebrity and more positive news in the media.
  • Participants believed banks penalised people with debt problems, and argued businesses should contribute to local communities.
  • People believed the church could help put ‘moral fibre’ back into society.
  • Participants felt strongly that individual action had an integral role to play in tackling social evils.


We ran workshops and discussion groups across England, Scotland and Wales, which were attended by single parents, the unemployed, carers and people with experience of homelessness. Those who took part were recruited through statutory and third sector organisations.

Read the report

Read Modern Day Social Evils

Read Opportunities and Aspirations paper