Britain is not broken.

One of the most irritating viral Facebook reactions to the riots I’ve seen is this:

“RIP Broken Britain.. You went soft on discipline!..You went soft on crime.. Parents were told.. ‘No you can’t smack the kids’….Teachers were prevented from chastising kids in schools.. The police couldn’t clip a troublemaker round the ear.. Kids had rights blah blah blah.. Well done Britain..You shall reap what you sow.. We have lost a whole generation!!”

Yes, the most appropriate and effective reaction to the riots is judgemental, sanctimonious hyperbole. Well done.

I hate this partly because it’s dreadfully smug and self satisfied, and partly because it’s inaccurate. For goodness sake, of course children should have rights. And are you really encouraging police brutality? Corporal punishment? How many of you posting this acted up a bit at school and turned out just fine? And parents are still legally allowed to smack their children, as long as they don’t bruise them/use an implement such as a belt (simplified version of a long debate of what constitutes “reasonable chastisement”). Would you prefer them genuinely harmed?

My country is not perfect. We have crime, inequality, poverty, bureaucrats getting in the way of effective healthcare, a lack of caring and support towards those with chronic illnesses or disabilities, and apparently hundreds of young people who feel so alienated from their communities that they don’t think twice about smashing them up. But we are a first world, developed country. We have universal – if imperfect – healthcare. We have a welfare system which offers crucial support those in need, even if many still fall down the cracks. We have a voting system which may not be the most effective and fair, but is still more democratic than a one-party system or dictatorship. Upwards social mobility is difficult but possible with the help of encouraging teachers/youth groups and student loans. There are hundreds of kind and generous people running charities out there – the one I work for is run by just three waged staff on a shoe-string budget, but supports hundreds of people per year who have eating disorders not medically severe enough to qualify for intensive support on the NHS. In cities there are resources for almost every marginalised group in existence: in Newcastle we have non-profit support groups for those with mental health problems and disabilities, several friendship groups for the LGBT community, a charity which offers medical, legal and psychological support for victims of torture, rape crisis organisations, a major branch of a nationwide charity for disadvantaged and abused children, services aimed specifically at different ethnic or religious groups (for example, Muslim women’s helpline), and so on. One of my friends from college runs a charity for people who have lost babies to stillbirth, miscarriages or profound disabilities. The list is endless.

I acknowledge that Britain is not perfect. My experience as someone with sometimes disabling mental health problems showed me that. I’ve felt alienated and uncared for frequently, and I’ve been put under a lot of financial stress in trying to support myself while still too sick to work. But I did get back on my feet – with the help of the citizen’s advice bureau, an independent ED charity in Dorset, my support worker in the NHS services, the Jobcentre, and so on. My mental health problems were complicated by the fact that I was raped at 18. In some third world countries rape is used as a weapon of war, and many women and men will be physically and mentally wounded to the point of death by sexual violence. I won’t give you the “think of the starving children in Africa!!!” reaction to eating disorders because I think it’s unhelpful and not a particularly valid comparison, but even so, it is easy to see that with my personal vulnerabilities, I would have been long lost if I had been born in one of many less fortunate countries.

I don’t see the point of patriotism because as far as I’m concerned, if you go back far enough we probably all came from the same point of origin, and more recently in history there have been so many invasions and merging of cultures that we are all partly from elsewhere. But I won’t put up with people wagging their finger and saying “I TOLD YOU SO” over things which were designed to make the country a fairer and safer place for children to live. And I won’t let anyone tell me that my country is broken when the news shows me that people in other countries struggle for their survival on a day to day basis. We are lucky to be shocked by rioting when warfare is a constant reality for many. My country is a work in progress, but there are people fighting to make it a better place, and as long as they continue to do so we will never be truly broken.


8 responses to “Britain is not broken.

  1. I totally agree. It’s scary that so many people want to smash things and it’s unbelievable that this can happen in a country like the UK (famed for mild-mannered letters of complaint and cups of tea), but bringing back corporal punishement is not the answer. Children (and adults) need rights. And (admittedly I’m basing this purely on stereotype) I imagine that the most disaffected teenagers are the ones from the most brutal estates, where violence both in and out of the home is most common. I also wish that people would stop blaming the police, because it seems to me that they’re doing the best they can in a bad situation.

  2. Hear hear! There are some awful facebook statuses floating around at the moment and it is worrying how vindictive and judgemental people are becoming in response to recent events. In focusing on what is ‘wrong’ with our country we risk losing sight of the things that make it great…and alienating already marginalised groups in the process.

  3. Have you been reading the Daily Mail again? I swear, it’s not good for anyone’s blood pressure.

    I really hope there hasn’t been any trouble where you are: I’ve been checking the news and various other places to check nothing has moved to Newcastle. We’ve had a few smashed up bus shelters but so far that’s been the extent of it *everything crossed.*

    It’s hard to pinpoint any particular cause behind this: the views you’ve highlighted are just as daft as blaming politicians or the police for not being able to wave a magic wand and solve the problem. I think the economic crisis has had something like this brewing for a while, but there are so many deep-rooted social inequities that it’s really difficult to know where to start in terms of rectifying things so that people don’t harbour so, so much anger that ends up exploding in situations like this.


    • Nope, that quote is ALL Facebook. I certainly never buy the DM, although I occasionally look on their website in hope of raising my pathologically low blood pressure to a more acceptable level.

      Nothing at all happening in Newcastle – I had dinner there with Jonathan earlier and there were a few more police around than usual, but it was otherwise virtually deserted. Very grateful to live in an unaffected part of the country.

  4. Tried to tweet (or whatever it is) a reply on this issue and failed because I just can’t keep myself to 140 characters. I agree, some of the coverage and facebook anger has been appalling. Casting around blame wherever it may land isn’t going to do anyone any good. Haven’t these people read their Janet Treasure and Camilla Batmanghelidjh? No of course they haven’t and they haven’t taken the time to reflect and neither have I yet but still…..
    The cynic in me says that none of this is new. There were a lot of riots 30 years ago and our dear neighbour who had never been caught up in anything like that in his life, not because he was some goody-goody or because his parents were superb but because he was brought up in the countryside during WWII and took out his aggression shouting at Hitler and his energy wandering acres of space looking for bombs said “it will stop when it rains”. He WASN’T being simplistic and dismissive – he was just stating that the physical environment has a lot to do with people’s behaviour.

    • This may be one reason why the north east has been spared from riots – I’d love to say that we are just fabulous people with a strong sense of community, but I think it’s more to do with the torrential rain 😛

      I’ve got a lovely resident at work who was a teenager in Jarrow at the time the crusade set off (uh, the Jarrow crusade this is, not THE crusades. No one at work is quite that old!). She told me unemployment was over 70% and THEY didn’t riot. I think a massive difference between then and now is that they had far stronger communities and extended families. There were no luxury goods to be had during the Depression anyway, so looting would have been fairly pointless. Even so, I think part of the discrepancy might also be due to the fact that back then, individuals who were members of marginalised groups had fewer chances to communicate en masse. For example, people with mental illnesses had virtually no chance to speak for themselves – they were either locked up or forced to try to cope with little support in the community, whereas now we as a group have a voice, and advocates, and charities, and the internet with which to trade ideas and organise protests. Whilst this is a great thing – I don’t think someone with my predispositions would have lasted very long in the first half of the last century – it also means that angry, oppressed and bitter groups of people can develop a herd mentality online, get carried away, take it out onto the streets…

      Life is definitely very different to the way it was eighty years ago, anyway.

  5. triumphofourtiredeyes

    Melanie Phillips wrote a wonderfully erudite piece explaining how wrong you are. (*)

    (*) that sentence may contain several lies.

    • LOL. Ah, Melanie Phillips. Someone I’m following on Twitter posted a link to that this morning but I was worried it would put me off my breakfast, so didn’t bother reading it. After careful consideration I think I will be sticking to my original views 😛

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