Mending our broken society – David Cameron

A concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture, an introduction of a non-military ‘national service’ for all 16-year-olds, getting the police back on the streets and away stifling bureaucracy and their desks, and an overhaul human rights laws which have had a ‘chilling effect’ on society were promised by the Prime Minister, David Cameron in a speech today in Witney Oxfordshire, as he introduced the Governments fight back plan after last week’s riots.

Taking Stock

“It is time for our country to take stock. Last week we saw some of the most sickening acts on our streets. I’ll never forget talking to Maurice Reeves, whose family had run the Reeves furniture store in Croydon for generations. This was an 80 year old man who had seen the business he had loved, that his family had built up for generations, simply destroyed. A hundred years of hard work, burned to the ground in a few hours.

“But last week we didn’t just see the worst of the British people; we saw the best of them too. The ones who called themselves riot wombles and headed down to the hardware stores to pick up brooms and start the clean-up. The people who linked arms together to stand and defend their homes, their businesses. The policemen and women and fire officers who worked long, hard shifts, sleeping in corridors then going out again to put their life on the line.

“Everywhere I’ve been this past week, in Salford, Manchester, Birmingham, Croydon, people of every background, colour and religion have shared the same moral outrage and hurt for our country. Because this is Britain. This is a great country of good people. Those thugs we saw last week do not represent us, nor do they represent our young people – and they will not drag us down.” Said the Prime Minister.

Why this happened

“Now that the fires have been put out and the smoke has cleared, the question hangs in the air: ‘Why? These riots were not about race: the perpetrators and the victims were white, black and Asian.These riots were not about government cuts: they were directed at high street stores, not Parliament.And these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.

“No, this was about behaviour…

…people showing indifference to right and wrong…

…people with a twisted moral code…

…people with a complete absence of self-restraint.”

Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face. Now, just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated. Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback. We must fight back against the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state. We know what’s gone wrong: the question is, do we have the determination to put it right? Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations? Asked David Cameron.

Broken society agenda

“So this must be a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face. Now, just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated. Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback. We must fight back against the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state. We know what’s gone wrong: the question is, do we have the determination to put it right? Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?” Asked the Prime Minister.

“Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged – sometimes even incentivised – by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised. So do we have the determination to confront all this and turn it around? I have the very strong sense that the responsible majority of people in this country not only have that determination; they are crying out for their government to act upon it. And I can assure you, I will not be found wanting. In my very first act as leader of this party I signalled my personal priority: to mend our broken society. That passion is stronger today than ever. Yes, we have had an economic crisis to deal with, clearing up the terrible mess we inherited, and we are not out of those woods yet – not by a long way. But I repeat today, as I have on many occasions these last few years, that the reason I am in politics is to build a bigger, stronger society.”

This is what I came into politics to do – and the shocking events of last week have renewed in me that drive. So I can announce today that over the next few weeks, I and ministers from across the coalition government will review every aspect of our work to mend our broken society…

…on schools, welfare, families, parenting, addiction, communities…

…on the cultural, legal, bureaucratic problems in our society too:

…from the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights that has undermined personal


…to the obsession with health and safety that has eroded people’s willingness to act according to common sense.

We will review our work and consider whether our plans and programmes are big enough and bold enough to deliver the change that I feel this country now wants to see.

Government cannot legislate to change behaviour, but it is wrong to think the State is a bystander. Because people’s behaviour does not happen in a vacuum: it is affected by the rules government sets and how they are enforced…

…by the services government provides and how they are delivered…

…and perhaps above all by the signals government sends about the kinds of behaviour

that are encouraged and rewarded.

So yes, the broken society is back at the top of my agenda. And as we review our policies in the weeks ahead, today I want to set out the priority areas I will be looking at, and give you a sense of where I think we need to raise our ambitions.” Said Cameron with conviction.

Security fightback

“First and foremost, we need a security fightback. We need to reclaim our streets from the thugs who didn’t just spring out of nowhere last week, but who’ve been making lives a misery for years. Now I know there have been questions in people’s minds about my approach to law and order. Well, I don’t want there to be any doubt. Nothing in this job is more important to me than keeping people safe. And it is obvious to me that to do that we’ve got to be tough, we’ve got to be robust, we’ve got to score a clear line between right and wrong right through the heart of this country – in every street and in every community. That starts with a stronger police presence – pounding the beat, deterring crime, ready to re-group and crack down at the first sign of trouble. Let me be clear: under this government we will always have enough police officers to be able to scale up our deployments in the way we saw last week.”

“To those who say this means we need to abandon our plans to make savings in police budgets, I say you are missing the point. The point is that what really matters in this fight-back is the amount of time the police actually spend on the streets. For years we’ve had a police force suffocated by bureaucracy, officers spending the majority of their time filling in forms and stuck behind desks. This won’t be fixed by pumping money in and keeping things basically as they’ve been. As the Home Secretary will explain tomorrow, it will be fixed by completely changing the way the police work. Scrapping the paperwork that holds them back, getting them out on the streets where people can see them and criminals can fear them. Our reforms mean that the police are going to answer directly to the people. Elected police and crime commissioners are part of the answer: they will provide that direct accountability so you can finally get what you want when it comes to policing. The point of our police reforms is not to save money, not to change things for the sake of it – but to fight crime.

“And in the light of last week it’s clear that we now have to go even further, even faster in beefing up the powers and presence of the police. Already we’ve given backing to measures like dispersal orders, we’re toughening curfew powers, we’re giving police officers the power to remove face coverings from rioters, we’re looking at giving them more powers to confiscate offenders’ property – and over the coming months you’re going to see even more. It’s time for something else too. A concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture. This isn’t some side issue. It is a major criminal disease that has infected streets and estates across our country. Stamping out these gangs is a new national priority.” Emphasised the Prime Minister.

Responsibility and welfare

But one of the biggest parts of this social fight-back is fixing the welfare system.

For years we’ve had a system that encourages the worst in people – that incites laziness, that excuses bad behaviour, that erodes self-discipline, that discourages hard work…

…above all that drains responsibility away from people.

We talk about moral hazard in our financial system – where banks think they can act recklessly because the state will always bail them out…

…well this is moral hazard in our welfare system – people thinking they can be as irresponsible as they like because the state will always bail them out.

We’re already addressing this through the Welfare Reform Bill going through parliament.

But I’m not satisfied that we’re doing all we can.

I want us to look at toughening up the conditions for those who are out of work and receiving benefits…

…and speeding up our efforts to get all those who can work back to work.

Work is at the heart of a responsible society.

So getting more of our young people into jobs, or up and running in their own businesses is a critical part of how we strengthen responsibility in our society.

Our Work Programme is the first step, with local authorities, charities, social enterprises and businesses all working together to provide the best possible help to get a job.

It leaves no one behind – including those who have been on welfare for years.

But there is more we need to do, to boost self-employment and enterprise…

…because it’s only by getting our young people into work that we can build an ownership society in which everyone feels they have a stake.

Human rights and health and safety

“As we consider these questions of attitude and behaviour, the signals that government sends, and the incentives it creates, we inevitably come to the question of the Human Rights Act and the culture associated with it. Let me be clear: in this country we are proud to stand up for human rights, at home and abroad. It is part of the British tradition. But what is alien to our tradition – and now exerting such a corrosive influence on behaviour and morality, is the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights in a way that has undermined personal responsibility. We are attacking this problem from both sides. We’re working to develop a way through the morass by looking at creating our own British Bill of Rights.

And we will be using our current chairmanship of the Council of Europe to seek agreement to important operational changes to the European Convention on Human Rights.

“But this is all frustratingly slow. The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations, leading them to act in ways that fly in the face of common sense, offend our sense of right and wrong, and undermine responsibility. It is exactly the same with health and safety – where regulations have often been twisted out of all recognition into a culture where the words ‘health and safety’ are lazily trotted out to justify all sorts of actions and regulations that damage our social fabric. So I want to make something very clear: I get it. This stuff matters. And as we urgently review the work we’re doing on the broken society, judging whether it’s ambitious enough – I want to make it clear that there will be no holds barredand that most definitely includes the human rights and health and safety culture.” Said David Cameron.

National Citizen Service

Many people have long thought that the answer to these questions of social behaviour is to bring back national service. In many ways I agree and that’s why we are actually introducing something similar – National Citizen Service. It’s a non-military programme that captures the spirit of national service. It takes sixteen year-olds from different backgrounds and gets them to work together. They work in their communities, whether that’s coaching children to play football, visiting old people at the hospital or offering a bike repair service to the community. It shows young people that doing good can feel good. The real thrill is from building things up, not tearing them down. Team-work, discipline, duty, decency: these might sound old-fashioned words but they are part of the solution to this very modern problem of alienated, angry young people.Restoring those values is what National Citizen Service is all about.” Commented the Prime Minister.

In conclusion

“Government can’t be on every street and in every estate, instilling the values that matter. This is a problem that has deep roots in our society, and it’s a job for all of our society to help fix it. In the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting. Moral decline and bad behaviour is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society. In the banking crisis, with MPs’ expenses, in the phone hacking scandal, we have seen some of the worst cases of greed, irresponsibility and entitlement.

“The restoration of responsibility has to cut right across our society. Because whatever the arguments, we all belong to the same society, and we all have a stake in making it better. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ – there is us. We are all in this together, and we will mend our broken society – together.” Concluded David Cameron.