That’s a question I just saw posted on a forum for ex-pats thinking about moving home. The poster explained that he was specifically asking about crime and unemployment.
There’s a widespread perception among people in England that the country is ‘going down hill.’ The tabloid newspapers perpetuate this notion because fear and outrage sell newspapers. Even our friends often tell us that England isn’t what it used to be.
The problem is it’s just not true.
Ah but you don’t live there, I hear you say. How could you know?
I admit I don’t know how it feels to be in England now, but I do know the facts. Crime is down again, a trend that has been remarkably consistent for years. It’s hard to get an accurate figure since different studies use different methodologies, but no matter which study you use, crime rates have been falling. There has been slight rises this year in domestic violence and burglary, which would make sense during a recession, but the overall numbers fell again and are better than they have been for a very long time.
Unemployment is a problem in the UK, as it is throughout much of the world right now, but rates are still significantly lower than they are here in the US.
The truth is that Britain is a better place to live for the vast majority of people than most places in the world (move to Somalia anyone?). It is also a better place to live than at any time in its history.
The ‘good old days’ my generation so often speak of were also the days of 3-day weeks and rubbish piling up in the streets and IRA bombs and terrible food. I remember when the opening of a Kentucky Fried Chicken a few miles down the road was a cultural highlight. Holidays abroad were the province of the rich and ‘foodie’ wasn’t even a word yet.
Go back a few more generations and some of my ancestors were living in the York slums, surviving on occasional poor law hand-outs and odd jobs, drinking themselves into an early grave (if they weren’t murdered in street violence first), all their kids in a ‘school’ that was just a front for child labor. Just 160 years later, their descendents are all living in comfortable houses, breathing clean air, taking frequent holidays, receiving high-quality health care at no charge, eating great food, and protected by a slew of labour laws … all while complaining loudly about how the country has gone to the dogs.
I don’t mean to suggest that Britain doesn’t have problems – where in the world doesn’t these days? – but I do think the mismatch between reality and perception is fascinating.