I agree with the recent "Britain isn't Broken" leader article which I listened to on the "Editor's Highlights" podcast.
But I would add another reason why people think Britain is broken - the media's (especially newspaper journalists') reporting of stories . The problem is, although I believe broadcast journalists tell the truth, we're always looking for the most dramatic angle on any news story. And it's even worse with newspaper journalists since they're not subject to the strict Ofcom Broadcasting Code rules which rightly mean broadcasters have to be accurate and impartial.
You can either listen to or read The Economist article on broken Britain below:
How broken is Britain?
It has become fashionable to say that British society is in a mess and getting worse. It isn’t
Feb 4th 2010 | From The Economist print edition
THEY are not the world’s most effusive people at the best of times. But even by their usual gloomy standards, Britons seem to have got themselves into a slough of despond of late. Well before the economic crisis they were weeping on the shoulders of pollsters, who reported rapidly rising levels of dismay about the country’s direction and an increased sense of nostalgia about the good old days. For those (and they are legion, on inner-city council estates as well as in the shires) who think that society in Britain is “broken”, the country is stuck in a mire of crime, fractured families and feral youth.
It is an idea that resonates. Every week serves up a new tragedy or outrage to be added to the pile of evidence. Such episodes have the power to jolt the public mood, as in 1993 when Tony Blair, then the shadow home secretary, described the murder of two-year-old James Bulger as a sign of “a society that is becoming unworthy of that name”. A similarly awful attack last year on two boys in South Yorkshire was held up by David Cameron, the Conservative leader, as not an “isolated incident of evil” but evidence of a profound problem that goes to the heart of society. He has made “broken Britain” a leitmotif in the run-up to the general election due by June 3rd.
It would be idiotic to claim that Britain is perfect. The vomitous binge-drinking mainly by the young, the drug abuse and teenage pregnancy that are still higher than in most west European countries and the large proportion of single-parent families all tell a tale. But the story of broad decline is simply untrue (see article). Stepping back from the glare of the latest appalling tale, it is clear that by most measures things have been getting better for a good decade and a half. In suggesting that the rot runs right through society, the Tories fail to pinpoint the areas where genuine crises persist. The broken-Britain myth is worse than scaremongering—it glosses over those who need help most.
The bad old days
The broken Britain of legend is one where danger stalks the streets as never before. In the real Britain, the police have just recorded the lowest number of murders for 19 years. In mythical broken Britain, children are especially at risk. Back in real life, child homicides have fallen by more than two-thirds since the 1970s. Britain used to be the third-biggest killer of children in the rich world; it is now the 17th. And more mundane crimes have fallen too: burglaries and car theft are about half as common now as they were 15 years ago. Even the onset of recession has not reversed that downward trend so far.
Comatose teenagers line every gutter in the boozy Britain of popular imagination. Yet after a long period of increase, there are tentative signs that Britons are drinking less alcohol. The overall consumption of drugs is dropping (though some narcotics, including cocaine, are becoming more popular) and rates of smoking are now among the lowest in Europe.
As for family breakdown, some commentators seem to think that sex really was invented in 1963. British grannies know differently. Teenage pregnancy is still too common, but it has been declining, with the odd hiccup, for ages. A girl aged between 15 and 19 today is about half as likely to have a baby in her teens as her grandmother was. Her partner will probably not marry her and he is less likely to stick with her than were men in previous generations, but he is also a lot less likely to beat her. In homing in on the cosier parts of the Britain of yesteryear, it is easy to ignore the horrors that have gone. Straight white men are especially vulnerable to this sort of amnesia.
A dangerous misdiagnosis
Such forgetfulness can be partly blamed on a dominant national press that tends to report the grotesque exceptions not the blander rule. But politicians have connived in this. Labour is far from blameless, but it is the Tories who are on course to be the next government. In attempting to convince voters that society has suffered a comprehensive breakdown (and pandering to his own party’s right wing), Mr Cameron has been guided towards social policies that are designed to heal the entire country, rather than help the relatively few who need it. His proposed tax break for married couples and gay civil-partners is an example. It does nothing for workless households. It would help only 11% of the 4m British children in poverty, while handing bonuses to plenty of well-off people. That would be a bad idea at any time; in a period when the state must tighten its belt it is an extraordinary proposal.
Above all, however, it is a distraction from the Conservatives’ far better policies to deal with something that does need fixing: education. The main reason why a small but worrying proportion of families and young people is falling behind is that schools are failing to give them the skills they need to get and hold a job. This is about more than Britain’s ability to compete in a brave new globalised world that demands flexible, highly skilled workers. It also has to do with social behaviour.
The waning of the manufacturing jobs that used to be the mainstay of the working class has created a generation of young males, in particular, who don’t know what to do with themselves. Britons have been boozers and scrappers for centuries, but self-destructive behaviour today in part reflects the perception that their lives are not worth much. As for children bearing children, there is evidence elsewhere that if girls are given better education—not just about sex, but also in areas likely to improve their job prospects—they are less likely to get pregnant at 16. Yet for all the official talk at home about ever-improving exam results, Britain is beginning to slide down the international league table of educational attainment.
The government used to be keen on overhauling education but it has run out of puff. Now it is the Tories who have thoughtful ideas about getting more good school places through supply-side reforms. They should focus on these rather than proselytising about marriage, which suggests a nannying streak curiously at odds with Mr Cameron’s (largely correct) view that government has got too big for its boots. Britain has a crunched economy, an out-of-control deficit and plenty of social problems; but it is not “broken”.