Litter can encourage community tension

An MP from Newcastle has raised an interesting consequence that may result from the presence of litter.

Chi Onwurah is Newcastle’s first black MP – she represents Newcastle Central for Labour and is Shadow Cabinet Office Minister. The background to her remarks is an increase in litter and fly-tipping in the city as a result, she thinks, of a move to fortnightly bin collections, a reduction in the number of street wardens, extended routes for street cleaning crews and pressures on the Council’s response service.

The worrying consequence of all this, says Onwurah, is that her constituents increasingly associate the problems of increased litter and fly-tipping with different ethnic groups.

This is indeed a worrying development and does nothing for the cohesion and connection of local communities. It is sadly part of human nature to blame other people for one’s community’s problems. One doesn’t have to think too far back in history to encounter minorities that were horrendously persecuted as the scapegoats of a society’s ills, more often than not without any factual justification whatsoever.

I firmly believe, though, that the remedy for this damaging mentality is to work quickly to bring the different elements of a community together so that they understand each other better and so diffuse any potential ill-feeling or blame.

That is what CleanupUK is trying to achieve on our Beautiful Boroughs Project in east London, in which we bring together different people from within a community to litter-pick together in their area so as to strengthen the feeling of community and, thereby, to make the community both stronger and safer. The feedback we have received from participants on the project not only shows a strong feeling of increased community spirit but also a better sense that people really can have an influence over what happens in and to their community.

And, if Chi Onwurah is right in what she says, that is exactly what seems to be needed so badly in Newcastle – to dilute, if not eliminate, what could be an extremely destructive anti-minority attitude.

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