Being a daughter of the soil and growing up in Africa, I often took for granted the warm, sunny weather and frequently complained about the African heat. However, since moving to the United Kingdom, I have been greeted by the atrociously cold weather and bitterly strong winds. When I step outside I often wonder to myself how people have managed to live in such harsh weather conditions for centuries, but then I am quickly reminded that the body adjusts very quickly. And more importantly people born here are more acclimatised to the weather and are probably not as affected by it as me —the “newbie”.
The people, by this I mean the British people are a lot friendlier than the world expects them to be (if that makes sense). As one of the greatest colonial superpowers that existed, there is an expectation that the land and its people would carry and espouse a somewhat superior undertone (or even overtone) towards non-British people. Fortunately, this is not the case. I have found that the average British person is accepting of others, eager to understand other cultures and very well informed about the world around them. For instance, the number of people that phone into one of the local radio stations—LBC, to give their opinion on whether or not the UK should leave the European Union, is case in point that the UK is a politically-conscious society.
Politically, the landscape is dominated by two main topics—Immigration and the National Health Services (NHS). The recent immigration crisis in Europe (and appeals made by Germany for the UK to accept more refuges) has fuelled massive concerns that migrants will flood the UK in their numbers. This has caused great apprehension among the British public. Many argue that mass influx of refuges from countries like Syria etc into the UK, will put a huge strain on the fragile domestic infrastructure and the ailing health care system. The issue is so polarising, that the country is now divided along two lines—“Those in favour of the UK leaving the EU” and “Those against the UK leaving the EU”.
The second issue that dominates the political landscape is the NHS. The NHS is basically a health care system that allows everyone access to free healthcare in the UK. “It is a publicly funded healthcare system for England and is the largest and the oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world”. It allows everyone; including UK citizens and legal immigrants, access to full breadth of critical and non-critical medical care without any out-of-pocket payment (which remains a lofty goal for many developing countries). In theory the NHS is an extraordinary system but in reality, it has come under immense pressure and threatens to cave in. This is because it is under-staffed, under-resourced and over-used. In recent times, the NHS has had to deal with budgetary cuts, despite increase in the number of people (mainly refugees and immigrants) using NHS services. Most NHS doctors are over-worked and underpaid, which has even prompted a brain-drain to countries like Australia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where British doctors are promised better working conditions and better pay.
The social and cultural landscape is best described as multicultural, infused with a bustling mix of European, Latin American, Asian, Afro-Caribbean and African flavour. The landscape reminds me of the proverbial “melting pot” often used to describe multicultural nation-states. Socially, the UK is very progressive, as issues such as racism are not glaringly obvious. The number of inter-race couples and mixed race children also attests to the progressive nature of the society. However some argue that racism in society is more systemic and embedded within corporate and political structures. It is more likely to occur in the corporate world, where certain structures are put in place to prevent minorities from achieving career advancement.
Culturally, the UK lacks the cohesive cultural bond, commonly found in the developing world. The society is rather individualistic with a sense of anomie. Most people are more concerned about getting on the property ladder than getting married or starting a family. That said, traditional family values are on the decline with more and more people choosing to postpone or forgo family life. A recent survey also showed that traditional family values have been altered to the point that more than 50 percent of children are not being raised by one or both biological parent(s).
A few last words
The United Kingdom is the oldest western democracy in the world and it continues to set international standards of practise for many of its western allies and former colonies. While there is a lot that many in the developing world can learn from the UK, there remains a lot that the developing world can pass on to the UK as well. Politically, many developing nations can learn a thing or two from such an advanced democracy that has realised universal free healthcare. But in the same vein, the UK can also learn a thing or two from cultural values espoused in the developing world that makes for more cohesive societal bonds.