The UK is getting more peaceful, but it’s not just the absence of violent crime that we should recognise
“The absence of violence or fear of violence.” This is how peace is defined by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), an organisation that recently measured the peacefulness of every borough in the country to create the UK Peace Index (UKPI).
The outlook of the index is positive. Peace is on the up, with homicides and violent crime rates falling dramatically. As the IEP puts it: “Our generation has bucked a century-long trend” of rising violent crime.
What’s more, the fall in violent crime reflects other trends towards a more peaceful society in the UK, including the gradual rise of restorative justice in the British prison system, the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland, and a rising awareness of ethical investing.
The UKPI data was linked to a range of factors, including income, living environment, housing, and health, and correlations were found between peace and all of these. Where deprivation and poverty are eliminated, and where there’s good access to housing and healthcare, peace flourishes.
The insights of the report are commendable, and crucially, the IEP states that one of the key goals of the index is “to move the conversation around violence from a narrow assessment of crime and crime rates, to a more holistic understanding of the causes, costs, effects, and implications of violence, as a starting point to realise a more peaceful society.”
To widen this conversation, firstly we will need to recognise that, as pointed out by Johan Galtung, who founded peace studies as an academic discipline, violence can be structural. Peace and violence are not only interpersonal, but are embedded in the way society is built.
The recent deaths of over 1,000 workers at a collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh, which supplied UK high streets, highlights the structural violence embedded in low-cost fashion.
Meanwhile, Britain is home to the world’s third biggest arms exporter, BAE Systems, and arms exports contribute around £7bn a year to our economy. And we’re fourth in the world for the amount we spend on our military, including nuclear weapons. Can we really say a country that exports so much violence overseas is a peaceful society?
Yet more importantly, as the IEP alludes to, peace is in fact much more than just the absence of violence. Peace is a result of how we each actively go about our daily lives and a peaceful society is one where everyone flourishes.
A nurse tending her patients, a teacher inspiring his pupils, an entrepreneur creating jobs while providing goods or services that benefit society – all these are acts of peace. Of course, these murmurs of peace might be more difficult to measure than crime levels and the financial cost of crime to the economy. But peace building includes recognising their inherent worth and structuring society around nurturing these positive, non-violent acts.
The IEP’s core goal is for peace to be seen as a positive, achievable, and tangible measure of human wellbeing and progress, and its UK Peace Index is an important achievement to that end. As part of this effort to create a more peaceful society, we must remember to celebrate the peace we already have, that’s all around us, and is an intricate part of our lives.