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How broken is Britain?

How broken is Britain?
The Politics Wire: Ipsos MORI's Political Blog

Our latest Reuters/Ipsos MORI Political Monitor poll is out, our first since the riots in England, and the results make interesting reading. This poll tested the public’s perception that ‘British society is broken’, an issue the Prime Minister has spoken out about since first becoming Conservative Party leader.

Fifty-eight per cent agree that ‘British society is broken’, chiming with our previous Issue Index showing increased concern about crime and anti-social behaviour. This is actually a slight fall since September 2008, the last time Ipsos MORI asked the question, when 63% believed in ‘Broken Britain’.

But overall, the riots do not seem to have significantly shifted the public consciousness about the general state of British society; instead, they may just have confirmed the impression they already had. The slight decrease since 2008 might be a reaction to seeing some communities come together to protect, clean and stand up for their local area during and after the riots.

Agreement with the Prime Minister’s recent statement in the aftermath of the riots that ‘there are pockets of British society that are not only broken, but frankly sick’ is, however, higher (69%).

That more agree with David Cameron’s idea of ‘sick pockets of society’ indicates that whilst there might be some underlying malaise around the state of British society, the public perceives that only parts of it are truly at fault.

This was very much the line of argument recently championed by Tony Blair in The Observer:

“The big cause is the group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour.”

Mr. Blair’s view necessitates tailored and targeted solutions specific to those groups, and it will be a real test of the Big Society to provide answers.  On the one hand, it fits right into its focus on localism and communities coming together to solve their own problems. 

But there are two real challenges. One is obvious – the type of very targeted, in-depth support that Tony Blair espouses is not cheap, and is going to be under great pressure in this time of public spending cuts.  The other is a tension that the supporters of Big Society have been aware of from the start: what do you do for the communities that don’t have the capacity – or perhaps even the will – to take on this responsibility?  A lot will depend on initiatives such as the Community Organisers programme (where recruitment for the first of the planned 5,000 has just begun), but this summer’s events show that they don’t have an easy task ahead.

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