Leaders: Household survey | Supervision orders

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WHO are we? An answer to that existential question can be found every year in the Scottish Household Survey, which provides a snapshot of our lives and our opinions, and charts how we change – sometimes dramatically, more often in small ways – over time.

This year, the picture it paints of Scotland and its people makes interesting reading for a number of reasons.

As usual, there are quirky and eye-catching findings, such as our new-found intolerance of annoying pets. But perhaps inevitably it is the findings about how we are weathering the recession that provide the most telling snapshot of the state of the nation. And the picture is a slightly rosier one than of late, tentatively encouraging for those in search of evidence of a new optimism in the land.

Asked how they were doing financially, Scots reported that their fortunes were – albeit incrementally – improving.

Those who said they were “managing well financially” in 2012 accounted for 47 per cent of Scots, up on 44 per cent at the close of 2011.

The percentage of the sample who said they were not managing well was, at 13 per cent, down from 16 per cent at the end of the previous year.

Those who said they were just “getting by” numbered slightly fewer than the year before.

These are not massive changes, but they suggest a country inching towards a firmer footing in its family finances, with more confidence in the ability to make ends meet.

Even a small increase in confidence can have a big effect, the lessening anxiety about the financial outlook meaning that people are more willing to spend a little cash, which in turn boosts the wider economy.

A question about whether people felt their neighbourhood was a good place to live painted a slightly different picture. Although crime is on the decline, the number of people who responded in the affirmative has fallen. This lack of a feelgood factor is perhaps because some people who may want to move house cannot yet afford to do so.

Stand back from the figures as a whole and they suggest a country that is, broadly speaking, at ease with itself. Some 90 per cent are engaged with culture of one sort or another, and although the number of people participating in sport remains flat, those who do participate do so more often.

Families who report that they are in deep financial trouble represent just 2 per cent – although up on the previous year, this is still a relatively small proportion.

The fact that this data was collected in 2012 leaves open the possibility that there may be an even better tale to tell further down the road. There are other, more recent, indicators that suggest Britain is beginning to emerge from the financial slough of despond.

Perhaps the Household Survey that examines 2013 will have an even happier tale to tell.

Supervision orders are not working

WHEN a dangerous criminal is made the subject of a supervision order as part of their sentence, the inference is that we, the general public, can rest a little easier in our beds knowing the powers that be are keeping an eye on this offender.

The trouble is, this reassurance is not justified, as evidenced by new figures from the Care Inspectorate. A new report shows that the list of offences carried out by people while under supervision orders is long and gruesome. The list includes murder, sexual assault and a full range of other violent offences. It is time the system came under serious review, because it is clearly not working. Almost as bad, it gives the public a false sense of security.

Very few offenders are under supervision in the strict way that we might innocently imagine, with constant surveillance of their lives and their behaviour. This is only possible for a handful of particularly dangerous individuals.

In far more cases, supervision is light and sporadic and gives little – if any – guarantee of greater public security.

This system simply is not working, as the new report plainly demonstrates.

The fault is not with those with the unenviable task of doing the supervising – they are doing the best possible job that time, money and resources allow. The fault is with the orders themselves.

It is time that supervision orders are only granted when the supervision can be intensive and meaningful, and can help ameliorate an offender’s potential risk to society.

For other offenders, the authorities need to be more honest about what is achievable.