I've just read this and its friggin mind boggling. Its what you would expect in the Bronx. Special investigation Council estate decline spawns new underclass. Amelia Hill reports on the spiralling crisis in Britain's inner cities, where jobless youngsters are locked into a cycle of deprivation and drug abuse, and government initiatives bring little hope (5) Amelia Hill A five-year-old boy in a ripped coat and dirty trousers hammered on the front door of his council estate flat at 11pm last Wednesday. 'Come on, you smackheads,' he shouted to his parents inside. 'I know what you're doing.' By the boy's feet sat a plastic bag with bread and milk. The only shop open at that time is on the opposite side of a busy motorway, a 15-minute walk away. According to neighbours, it is a journey the child regularly makes on his own. 'Unless someone rescues that wee kiddie and gives him a second chance, he's doomed,' said Jean, who has lived on the Clyde Court housing estate in Leeds for 17 years. She is too scared of her neighbours to give her full name. On an estate where deprivation and violence are commonplace, the boy's bleak, hopeless life is the norm and, if he takes his ambitions from those around him, his life chances are near to zero. In a few years he could seek to emulate Steven Gedge, a 12-year-old local boy recently arrested for the fifty-fifth time. He has already been given up for lost by his mother, his school and the local council. Steven in turn has little to model his life on except the family living around the corner, three of whose four children are heroin addicts including the youngest, who had an abortion two years ago when she was 11. The only child in this family not using heroin is a 16-year-old girl who had a child last year with a local lad. The baby has never seen its father: he was arrested for drug dealing before his son's birth. Two weeks ago, the local newsagent was robbed by a 14-year-old boy high on drugs, wielding a butcher's knife and a plank of wood spiked with nails. The local church has barricaded its windows and surrounded itself with razor wire. Looming at the heart of the estate is the residents' apex of fear: the 16-floor Clyde Court tower block where bloodied tissues lie in pools of urine and tinfoil stained with crack drifts around the stairwell like autumn leaves. The block is a favourite with local youths, who have stripped it of every piece of metal down to the lift call buttons. They attach used syringes with their needles exposed to the underside of the banisters, and throw shopping trollies from the roof heedless of anyone walking below. Clyde Court is a terrible place to live. Over the past decade, employment growth in Leeds has been three times the regional average but, in the underworld of Clyde Court, daily life is still raw with social deprivation. The lives of Steven Gedge and his ilk are far from unusual: there are thousands of people across Britain eking out lives similarly marked by violence, educational underachievement, unemployment, sickness and disease. At the heart of almost every thriving city in Britain lies a second city, hidden from visitors' eyes, where, as Jean sadly says of Clyde Court: 'Decent, proud and law-abiding residents are kept prisoners in their own homes through fear of the gangs that rule the streets.' There are around six million people living on council estates in Britain, many in properties that are rundown, isolated and abandoned. The Government's Â£12.5 billion flurry of initiatives promising a joined-up approach to communities, crime and criminal justice has produced a mish-mash of projects that have proved difficult to deliver on such barren ground. More police officers, community officers and a ban on handguns have made no dent in the growing level of violence in deprived urban areas. Street robbery and gun crime has risen, while Clyde Court residents say they have yet to see the benefits of the much-vaunted Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos). 'Do I have "stupid" tattooed on my forehead?' said Jean when asked if she has tried to get an Asbo served on the gangs who make her life hell. 'The only way to make an Asbo stick is to give evidence in court and if you do that, your life won't be worth living.' The much-vaunted Asbos have made things worse, those on the ground say, by enhancing criminals' sense of being outside the law. 'There is a local gang of 20 boys who blow up cars with firecrackers or slash tyres with knives right in front of the neighbours, in broad daylight,' said Jean. 'These boys, some just 14 years old, don't even bother to run away any more. 'They look round at us all and sneer because they know we won't dare to say anything for fear of being next on their list. Last week, they pushed a firecracker through the window of a heavily pregnant woman as she dozed on the sofa. God only knows how she didn't miscarry.' The picture in Leeds is grim but by no means unusual. 'There's a new social class now that's growing up from underneath all the others,' said Karen Law, from Sheffield's Manor estate. 'It's the underclass. They're today's teenagers and they have no future.' Thirty years ago, local residents had to wait years to get on the list to be housed on the Manor estate. Over the past decade, however, the council has been selling off as many Manor properties as it can to housing associations and the area has disintegrated. 'You can't regenerate a community by ripping out its heart,' said Brian Wilson, of the Shirecliffe estate, Sheffield. 'Communities take generations to build up and the council has destroyed ours by knocking bits down, selling bits off and leaving the rest to rot.' Manor properties the council can't shed are left empty and boarded up, some for years. The effect on the community is predictable: during the past two weeks, a milkman has been murdered and the vicar of the local church has been mugged by a gang of 11-year-old boys. 'Twenty years ago, the Manor was considered the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of housing estates,' said Law. 'Now you can walk round and take your pick of the empty houses, if you can crowbar off the boards from the windows. The council has let this area die.' While turning a blind eye to such problems, the Government has insisted on sticking to its manifesto pledge to transfer 200,000 council homes a year out of the public sector. Keen to acquiesce, local authorities routinely refuse to pay for renovations and repairs to remaining council stock until residents have agreed to let their homes be handed over to the housing associations. It is, say remaining residents, a policy that leads to the steady disintegration of their environment, leaving them abandoned and isolated. 'We want to stay with the council but they're blackmailing us by saying they won't spend any more money on our houses until we vote to go over to one of these privatisation schemes,' said Wilson. 'When the council want an area cleared for stock transfer, they start running the area down until the residents' lives are hell,' he added. 'I can't prove it: I can only say what I see and that's what has happened on every estate they've got rid of around here.' Despite the government housing schemes and the new antisocial behaviour orders, the problem faced by these communities can be summed up in a single word: poverty. Poverty of income, poverty of opportunity and poverty of expectation. A failure of government has led to the creation of these no-go areas which the law struggles to contain and the Government fails to acknowledge. Hilary Benn, Secretary for Overseas Development and the MP in whose Leeds Central constituency Clyde Court lies, is frustrated by his attempts to get his Government to recognise the problems these areas face. 'These communities need someone to listen and to look at what is happening,' he said. 'Frankly, I have been shocked by some areas in my constituency. It is not acceptable that people should have to live in that way.' As the politicians prevaricate, however, the communities are taking matters into their own hands: to the alarm and distress of residents, vigilante groups of frustrated local men are being formed. Two weeks ago, a group of men in their 40s from Clyde Court finally lost patience. They collected together baseball bats and bought some masks. Then they waited until darkness and went out to find the boy of 17 who had led the latest swathe of neighbourhood violence. 'We didn't find him because he was already in the back of a police car,' said one, who refused to be identified. 'But we smashed all the windows of his mother's house instead, to serve her right for bringing him into the world,' he added. This is not a violent man but one driven to extremes by the inability of the law to take control. 'Part of me is ashamed of what we did but I'd do it again because we're so frustrated,' he said. 'We've been law-abiding men all our lives who have worked hard to provide for our families but now we're forced to watch these thugs take control of the streets, destroy what we've worked for and spit all over us.' The consistent message from council-estate residents up and down the country is that their lives are getting worse, and with a single voice, they identify drugs as the new fact of the problem. 'There's nothing for kids from our background who can't or don't go to university,' said Terry George, whose family has lived on south London council estates for generations. 'When I left school, I went on a scheme to be a welder and had a job within six months. My sons have been on scheme after scheme, and there's never a job at the end,' he said. 'I'm a good dad and I try to keep my sons under control but I've already lost control of one of them.' That son is 24-year-old John. He has been a heroin addict since he was 13, when his older cousin came to stay to try to break his own addiction. He ended up sharing it instead with John. 'I came from a lovely family, it wasn't their fault that I've turned out like have,' John says now. 'But council estates are dangerous places for weak kids and I was weak. 'I used to roam the streets in a gang prepared to do anything to get money for drugs. Once I robbed a load of phones to sell but this young kid didn't have enough money to buy one off me, so I told him to steal a bike for me instead. He came from a really nice local family and I don't think he'd stolen anything before but he did a few things for me after that.' Despite being victims of gang violence, residents recognise youths such as John are victims themselves of a relentless, irresistible tide of drugs and hopelessness. Shona Trewannie, who works in a community school in Leeds, admits she feels sorry for the generation of young teenagers who make her life hell. 'The kids hitting their teenage years now are third-generation drug addicts, with no experience of parenting,' she said. 'They have never lived in a house where people have gone to work and have no idea of what it means to live without violence and squalor. They're practically feral.' Those growing up on council estates have no belief their lives could be different from the poverty-stricken, aimless, drug-addled existence of their parents. 'The Thatcher government took our working-class life away from us but they didn't replace it with anything,' said Wilson. 'The reason our children have fewer life opportunities isn't because they can't go to university, it's because they can't go to work.' Twenty years ago, unemployment was a stigma in Sheffield. Now the factories have been replaced by industrial estates employing 10 times fewer people, and unemployment is the norm. 'There's not room for everybody at the top of society but there's not enough work for all those left at the bottom,' Wilson said. 'Our children used to learn how to be men and discover what it meant to be part of a community in the factories. Youths today are lost. No wonder they cause havoc.' Not all estates are like this. On Parson's Cross in Sheffield, the residents are fighting a battle to stop the council handing over responsibility for their estate to a housing association. 'Council estates are being stigmatised by those who only look at inner city estates,' said Mary Steele, whose family has lived in council homes for generations. 'We've got no gangs here. There's poverty but no gangs because we look after ourselves and each other just like we've always done. 'All this rubbish about us being ne'er-do-wells and not getting a good education is an insult. My kids and grandchildren are all doing extremely well - a lot better than me when I went to school.' Park Wood, Steele's local secondary school, has been refurbished, partially rebuilt and, under a new head teacher, has gone in two years from being an underachieving school to a decent one. 'Those teachers put in 100 per cent effort and they're turning out good children,' she said. Steele rages against the stigma associated with council housing estates. 'The Government would love it to be true because then they could privatise the lot,' she said. 'The thing is, it simply isn't true. I wouldn't move from this estate for the world: we still talk over the garden fence and look out for each other. It's safe, friendly and comfortable here. It's a home we love.' Back at Clyde Court, the locals have despaired of police or government intervention and, in an attempt to prevent more outbreaks of vigilante action, are taking control for themselves. Lucy Dowling, a community worker for 20 years, has reopened the community centre, despite admitting being 'staggered' at the level of local violence. 'On the one hand, local boys have pulled up paving stones from the playground outside to use as battering rams but on the other, I've already had 17 local people offering to be volunteers,' she said. 'I'm determined, with this level of community involvement, we can help these boys. We've got no choice: unless we solve this, we're going to finish up with ghettos controlled by an underclass unable to imagine a better life.' Jean O'Dowell, 23, who grew up on the housing estate in south London where Damilola Taylor lived and died, was the only student from her state school to go to university and the only child in the school's history to win a place at Cambridge University. Now working in the City, O'Dowell insists it is possible for children on council estates to succeed. She is clear, however, that succeeding means leaving - and never going back. 'I was one of the lucky ones: my school was chaos, the estate was like a cesspool and the people we lived beside were too scary for my parents to allow me out at night,' she said. 'But my family were determined I'd succeed, and there were two reasons I did: first, education was golden in our household and second, my parents gave me a loving, secure and happy home.' 'I was the only girl in my class whose parents were together and happy. The only one who looked forward to going home at the end of the school day. 'To succeed in a council estate means you've managed to get out. If for some reason I had to go back there to live, I'd consider my life a failure. It's that bad.' Poverty Â· The UK has the worst poverty in the European Union, the longest working hours and the lowest social spending. Â· To meet the EU's decency threshold, the UK minimum wage would be Â£8.32 an hour. It is Â£5.80 Â· Three times more UK children fall beneath the poverty threshold than in 1970. Â· While the top tenth of the population had pay rises averaging 7.3 per cent last year, the bottom tenth got 4.5 per cent - and this on a base wage lower, in real terms, than 30 years ago. Crime Â· 1 per cent of the population suffers 59 per cent of all violent crime. Â· 2 per cent of the population suffers 41 per cent of all property crime. Â· Most criminals commit their offences within 1.8 miles of their front door: they rob their neighbours. Overwhelmingly, those offenders live on council estates consumed by poverty and criminalised by the war against drugs. Â· A lone 18-year-old woman with a child is more than five times more likely than the average victim to suffer from crime. Homes Â· Almost 6 million people - just over 10 per cent of the population - live in Britain's 2.9 million council homes. Â· Another 3 million people live in homes that have left council control since 1988 through transfers to housing associations or Right to Buy programmes. Â· Since the public sector reforms of the Seventies, many jobs traditionally done by council tenants have been contracted out to private companies, making them less secure and worse paid. Since contracting out, 62 per cent of public sector workers earn less, 73 per cent have fewer holidays, 53 per cent worse sick pay, 51 per cent worse pensions and 44 per cent less job security.