Intended for healthcare professionals


Riots on the streets

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 16 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5248
  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1,
  2. Rosalind Raine, professor of health care evaluation2
  1. 1London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1H 9SH, UK
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. martin.mckee{at}

A public health perspective could help, if politicians would listen

Last week the United Kingdom experienced rioting on a scale not seen for more than a century. For a time, the police ceded control of the streets of London and other major cities, with shops being pillaged and fires burning out of control.

In the aftermath, politicians have competed for airtime to set forth their views about the nature of the underlying problem and how society should respond. Virtually all agree that many of the answers lie within the criminal justice system, with questions about whether the initial police response was adequate and whether the punishments of those convicted fit their crimes. Others, in comments laced with clarifications that they are not excusing those involved (lest they be characterised by the tabloid press as soft on crime) tentatively suggest that some answers may lie in social policy, and ask whether government policies may be creating a disenfranchised underclass.

There is, however, another perspective that has so far been neglected but may have something to offer. The riots and their aftermath …

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