How did 'Thatcher's Children' Fare?: Investigating Crime and Victimisation in the Life-courses of Those Born in 1970

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Law


This grant follows on from two earlier ESRC-funded grants held by Stephen, and a British Academy seminar he co-organised with Colin Hay (a leading theorist of Thatcherism). The first grant was a scoping project, which assessed the extent to which it was possible to undertake more prolonged and in-depth investigations into the social, economic and cultural impacts of Thatcherite public policy on contemporary UK society, especially as these features relate to criminal justice policy. This earlier grant concluded that it was possible to undertake two further projects. The first of these (looking at regional level changes using repeated cross-sectional surveys) we have, with ESRC-funding, completed. The second project (and the one we are seeking funding for herein) would extend this enquiry to the individual level using longitudinal data (thereby ensuring that we do not fall foul of committing the ecological fallacy - that is assuming that because something operates at the national level, it also works in the same way for individuals).

To do this we will use data from the British Cohort Study which is a longitudinal study of a group of men and women born in one week in 1970. The cohort (which numbers over 17,000 people) have been interviewed themselves on a number of times (at ages 10, 16, 21, 26, 29, 34, 38 and 42) and there have been interviews with their mothers and teachers when they were younger. They were asked a range of questions about their home lives, schooling, employment careers, social attitudes and, crucially for us, since we are interested in how these processes lead people to or away from crime, their victimisation, drug taking, arrest history and offending.

We have spent a long time theorising how the social and economic policies of the 1980s and 1990s might have operated to alter the social environments in which these young people grew up. Moreover, our analyses of changes in social attitudes in the country at the time and the extent to which these may have differed between generations allows us to 'locate' this cohort's experiences and values in wider contexts. By relying, where and when appropriate to do so, on a similar cohort study which went before this one (the National Child Development Study, participants born in 1958), we can disentangle the complex changes which occur as people age. This means that we are much less likely to misinterpret what looks like significant changes, but which are just a facet of aging and 'growing up'.

As we saw in April 2013, when Margaret Thatcher died, there was a lot of public debate about what her time in office means now, with some arguing that she had been a great leader who had liberated Britain from bureaucracy, and others pointing to the decline of manufacturing, fragmenting of working class communities and increasing north-south divide as real social harms inflicted upon the country. With this in mind, we will explore the extent to which Thatcherite social values have become embedded in our wider society via a nationally representative social survey conducted by a large survey company. The project will also help to build capacity in UK social science by training two PhD students (funded by Sheffield University). Via the PhD students' training in cognitive interviewing, the employment of Dr. Emily Gray as a PhD supervisor, the attendance of all three at major international conferences, the production of a film and the promotion of that media as a vehicle for academics, we will make a lasting contribution to social science capacity in these arena. Stephen will continue to champion quantitative data analysis and will be well-placed to do this given the Faculty's Methods Institute and involvement in the ESRC-funded White Rose DTC. The Steering Committee will advise us on regional processes and the conducting of online surveys.

Planned Impact

We have seven impact activities planned:

Activities 1 and 2 are essentially communications and engagement actions. Activity 1 will be to hold a seminar for policy-makers, politicians, people working in 'think tanks', journalists and academics. This will be paid for by the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield and held at a central London venue (such as the BA). Work towards this will start from the middle of year 2 in order to attract the best speakers and commentators to the event. Activity 2 will be an email list of interested parties (within and outside of academia) in order for the project team to communicate most efficiently with users and colleagues in both the UK and further afield. We already have a similar list which contains some 150-200 interested parties. We will continue to tweet about our findings to our +1,600 twitter followers. We will work with key stakeholders (e.g the PSA, BSA, members of Parliament, and think tanks) from the inception of the project so as to encourage an on-going dialogue.

Activities 3 and 4 will be aimed at the exploitation of the data sets and developing an interest in the wider goals of the project. Activity 3 will see us lodge copies of our data sets with the UK Data Archive, enabling others to exploit and explore this and our previous datasets together. Between Feb and May the data sets which we archived from the earlier project (ES/K006398/1) were downloaded 20 times by a range of users, suggesting that there is an appetite for the collation and relodging of existing datasets to enable further analyses. Activity 4 will be a webpage which will be aimed at the general public, the media and politicians. This will also be used to enable us to blog about the project and as a platform from which people can watch the film to be made (see below, Activity 5). This strategy worked well previously (see Via this route the new 10-15min film and the earlier 40min film (Generation Right) will be made available for use as free teaching resources (hopefully helping to attract more young people into the social sciences as a career).

Activities 5 to 7 revolve around the co-production of a documentary film. The film (Activity 5) will be 10-15mins long and will be made (using archival footage) with a professional film production company. The research team and the film company will co-write the script and decide upon the sorts of images or specific aspects of actual footage which will suit the narrative. The film will contribute greatly to the project's dissemination and impact plans in that it will provide a vehicle for pitching for a longer film to commissioners as well as providing a teaching and learning resource for those teaching social science A Levels and those teaching at undergraduate level. The Political Studies Association and British Sociological Association (see letters of support, and Activity 7) will support us during the making of the film as a teaching resource to ensure integration with course material(s). The film will be made so that those studying politics, sociology and other social sciences will benefit from watching it. (Our earlier film ("Generation Right") has been shown to 6th formers to great effect). Stephen and Emily have experience of writing films on policy-related issues (see above). Activity 6 is a session at DocFest in Sheffield in June 2019 which will bring together academics and film makers in order to facilitate a greater use of this medium as one of the outlets for social science research. Similar events were held in June 2014 and June 2015 and were a great success, building on the Sheffield Centre for Research in Film.

We will also remain open to the possibility of exploiting other avenues for achieving impact as and when these arise throughout and after the lifespan of the project. (For example, we continue to run Q&A sessions at film festivals throughout the UK).


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/P002862/1 01/04/2017 31/12/2018 £611,207
ES/P002862/2 Transfer ES/P002862/1 01/01/2019 31/03/2020 £311,995
Description Survey in 2019 
Organisation BMG Research
PI Contribution BMG Research
Collaborator Contribution BMG Research will run a survey for us in 2019
Impact This will be a survey which will run in early 2019.
Start Year 2018