For decades now we’ve been told that we should all live in mixed neighbourhoods. Mixed in terms of socio-economic class that is. That there should be council houses in the middle of Westminster, that to have the poor living in cheap areas, the rich in rich ones, would be a terrible betrayal of something or other. It now seems that this is entirely wrong:
Britain has prized the ideal of economically mixed neighbourhoods since the 19th century. Poverty and disadvantage are intensified when poor people cluster, runs the argument; conversely, the rich are unfairly helped when they are surrounded by other rich people. Social mixing ought to help the poor. It sounds self-evident—and colours planning regulations that ensure much social and affordable housing is dotted among more expensive private homes. Yet “there is absolutely no serious evidence to support this,” says Paul Cheshire, a professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics (LSE).
And there is new evidence to suggest it is wrong. Researchers at Duke University in America followed over 1,600 children from age five to age 12 in England and Wales. They found that poor boys living in largely well-to-do neighbourhoods were the most likely to engage in anti-social behaviour, from lying and swearing to such petty misdemeanours as fighting, shoplifting and vandalism, according to a commonly used measure of problem behaviour. Misbehaviour starts very young (see chart 1) and intensifies as they grow older. Poor boys in the poorest neighbourhoods were the least likely to run into trouble. For rich kids, the opposite is true: those living in poor areas are more likely to misbehave.
This entirely makes sense. Imagine that it really is inequality that causes so many problems. Inequality is going to be felt most keenly about those one lives cheek by jowl with. Forcing the poor to live in “affordable housing” among the mansions of the rich is therefore going to exacerbate problems, isn’t it?
Not that these facts are going to make a blind bit of difference. Facts never do when ideology is involved.