Social evils in 1904 were poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling according to the founder of the Joseph Rowntree Trust. In a 21st century consultation the Trust has found that people are now concerned about the way society has become more individualistic, greedy and selfish with a cost to a sense of community.
The consultation reveals that people feel a strong sense of unease about some of the changes shaping British society. There is a perception that people no longer share a set of common values and that the ‘moral compass’ has been lost.
A major theme that emerged from the consultation was a decline of community and weakened local neighbourhoods. Participants felt that neighbours no longer know or look out for one another, which left people feeling isolated, lonely and fearful, particularly the elderly and those who live alone. People also spoke of a decline of community in a more abstract sense, in terms of a lack of public spiritedness or social responsibility.
There was a strong sense that this decline of community has corresponded to a rise in individualism. Participants suggested that people increasingly look after their own individual or family interests without considering the needs of society or the community.
A common theme was that values and aspirations rooted in communities and relationships have been eclipsed by an excessive desire for consumer goods. Greed emerged as a key issue, seemingly a symptom of society valuing things in terms of money or material worth.
People believed that government and the media are largely responsible for social evils. The government were seen to be out of touch with the real issues people face and to be ineffective at tackling social problems. The media was criticised for fuelling negative and damaging attitudes and behaviours.