Debate rages over Britain’s ‘broken society’

Wild West: “There are some really violent people out there now who just don’t care” — Ken Marsh.

How accurate is this description? A video has gone viral showing thugs attacking two police officers. Several people passed by and refused to intervene — fuelling claims of a “broken” society.

It was a shocking assault. One man kicks a policewoman to the ground, inches away from a passing bus. Meanwhile, another officer is dragged across the road, punched, kicked and scratched.

All the while, witnesses pass by. Some watch from their cars, others film on their phones. In the end, only one person tries to help those being attacked.

“If the public now think it’s OK to stand and film and mock my colleagues... then we are in very dangerous grounds,” declared senior police chief Ken Marsh. He stated that police officers may have to start letting violent criminals go if they are not “backed up” by the public.

“In the old days, this would never have happened. The public would have jumped in,” he continued. “Society is broken.”

Marsh’s remarks made front page news. Indeed, the accusation that British society is “broken” is a common theme in politics and the media.

From 2007, The Sun ran many stories under the “broken Britain” theme, documenting violent crime, child neglect, teenage pregnancy and benefits cheats — all supposed proof of widespread social decay.

Furthermore, David Cameron’s 2010 general election campaign was built around a promise to fix “broken Britain”. These ideas have stuck. Last year, a poll found that 56% of British people felt that society was broken.

But how much does the label apply today?

In terms of crime, there are some worrying trends. Incidents involving knives are at their highest level since 2011, with over 120 homicides in London this year. The number of assaults on police has also risen since 2015.

However, If you count all violent incidents (not just serious crimes), statistics say the opposite. In 1995, five in 100 adults were victims of violence; now that figure is two in every 100 — a record low.

Progress has been made in other areas too. Since 2010, one million people have escaped poverty; between 1984 and 2014 infant mortality fell by 62%; and this year teenagers achieved the best A-level results since 2012.

Is society really broken?

Broken Britain

Of course not, some argue. “Broken Britain” is a myth. In a global context, Britain is one of the safest countries in the world, and focusing on individual crimes gives us a warped view of reality. Our society functions through the unreported kindness of normal people. It might not make the papers, but we can all rely on it.

Not so fast, others respond. Modern life is driving us apart. A staggering 73% of people do not know their neighbours’ names. With the rise of social media, people have become self-absorbed and disconnected from their communities. Society only thrives when individuals have empathy for others — something that is rapidly being lost.

You Decide

  1. Is British society broken?
  2. Should the public be encouraged to help police deal with violent criminals?


  1. In one minute, write down all the words that you associate with Britain and being British? Share your thoughts with the class. Are most of the words positive or negative? Should people feel proud to be British? Why/why not?
  2. Think about the world more widely. Write down three reasons why the world is improving, and three reasons why things might be getting worse. (Hint: consider things like: technology, science, the environment, politics, war and culture.) Overall, is the world getting better or worse? Take a class vote. Which side wins?

Some People Say...

“The police are the public and the public are the police.”

Sir Robert Peel

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
One of the attackers has been arrested and charged by police. The other two remain on the run. Both officers were taken to hospital, treated for minor injuries, and later released. Police chief Ken Marsh also said that the public should assess the situation before stepping in to assist: “they should only intervene if they can safely do so,” he said.
What do we not know?
One man wearing a motorcycle helmet intervened in the attack, however we do not know who he is. Precise details concerning how and why the attack happened have also not been made clear. Furthermore, a police officer told the BBC that assaults on police are “massively unreported”, suggesting that the rate of attacks on police could be higher than statistics suggest.

Word Watch

Police chief
Ken Marsh is the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation.
By Ipsos Mori. Britain was not the most cynical nation. In America, 66% of people thought society was broken — Poland topped with chart with 79%.
According to the Office for National Statistics. Over the same period, firearm offences rose slightly.
Over 120
If the killings continue at the current rate, the total figure will reach 140 by the end of the year. This would be the highest since 2008.
This counts the number of assaults on police that did not result in injury. Statistics on assaults on police leading to injury were only added to Home Office statistics this year.
According to government statistics on absolute poverty. There are other ways to measure poverty which give different results. See The Day’s story at the bottom of the page.
Infant mortality
Deaths of those under one year.
According to a survey by Skipton Building Society.

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