Community spirit is alive and well in UK, finds report

Positive News

Far-reaching research into people’s values indicates that people feel positively about the UK on a local level, but feel that their values are not reflected in how the country operates at a national level

UK citizens largely feel that community spirit is alive in their neighbourhoods, but nationally they want a more caring and compassionate society with greater accountability and honesty, and more effective governance, a major new report has revealed.

The report, Increasing Happiness by Understanding What People Want, was compiled by Barrett Values Centre (BVC) in consultation with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and charity Action for Happiness. It questioned 4,000 people and adds to a body of surveys done in 24 other countries looking at people’s principles.

Respondents were asked to choose from nearly 100 words and phrases describing a range of values. The words people consistently used to describe their own values were: caring, family, honesty, humour and fun, friendship, fairness and compassion, independence, respect and trust.

When asked what values they currently experience in their local area, responses were closely aligned to personal values. Additional chosen values were: quality of life, helpfulness, safety, community services, buying local and a sense of community.

However, when asked about the values they see operating nationally, the picture is very different, with no positive words or phrases chosen. Instead, terms such as bureaucracy, crime and violence, uncertainty about the future, corruption, blame, wasted resources, media influence, conflict/aggression, drugs/alcohol abuse and apathy topped the charts.

According to the authors, people want to see more caring for the elderly and disadvantaged, affordable housing, employment opportunities, accountability, honesty, government effectiveness, effective healthcare, employment opportunities and dependable public services.

“Many cities, towns and communities around the UK are now saying, ‘Let’s create our own communities’”

Phil Clothier, CEO of Barrett Values Centre, which aims to help build a worldwide network of change agents committed to cultural transformation, said: “It’s great to see that most people feel positive about what is happening in their local communities, but it is quite disturbing to see the level of discontent that exists at a national level.

“What’s happening locally is that we’re seeing patterns happening around world mass individuation, particularly in countries like Egypt, for example. People are saying, ‘We can do this stuff for ourselves, we don’t have to wait for bosses and the elite to do it’. In fact, many cities, towns and communities around the UK are now doing just that. They’re saying, ‘Let’s create our own communities’.”

The study also measured the level of dysfunction people feel exists in the UK and their local community – labelled in the report as ‘cultural entropy’. The results showed a 59% level of cultural entropy at the national level, compared to just 22% at a community level.

The UK has one of the highest levels of cultural entropy recorded in nine European countries studied by BVC to date. Indeed, the UK is only 13% lower than Venezuela, which is known to be beset by corruption, said Clothier.

Encouragingly, government officials in the UK have been following the survey as part of their research into wellbeing, according to Clothier.

“Specifically, what I’d like to see arise from this is conscious values-based decision making. When we become conscious of our values, we change our behaviour to create the life and world we want. I want leaders to understand people’s values and build them into policy,” he said.

Photo title: A village wheelbarrow race in Aldborough, Norfolk demonstrates the strong community spirit found in much of the UK

Photo credit: © Flickr member Steenberg

  • Charlie Mansell

    Very interesting stuff. I work in Values research ( and ) and I think this is very useful in showing the benefits of understanding values and also flags up important concepts such as ‘Limiting Values’ and ‘Cultural Entropy’ which I think can help those working with tough public and community cohesion challenges which are not easily to solve overnight.

    However, I would also add that in an era when UKIP is polling over 10% and there is a lot of pessimism around perhaps the report should focus more on the challenges identified in the Cultural Entropy measurements. Whilst people are personally optimistic they seem to be pessimistic at a national level. One can blame the media for this, but in many ways they are just reflecting back the mood to people who they engage with.

    Looking at the issues covered and not covered. I am surprised people were not asked about views on immigration/identity which is a strong issue in values research At the same time I suspect the term ‘wasted resources’ may mean different things to the Inner Directed (ecologically damaging waste) compared to the Sustenance Driven (Benefits recipients). ‘Bureaucracy’ is also a term that may mean different things to the inner directed (processes that do not work) compared to the Sustenance Driven (highly paid inner directed public sector workers). This Values Gap is something that could be explored more in this report

    However overall this is very useful and adds to our understanding of the issue. I hope Action for Happiness and ONS explore values more as it can help with developing realistic resilience and optimism strategies:

  • Miranda M

    Hello, I’m an ICT student and I was just wondering if it would be okay with you for me to use the image in this page for my Community Sprit E-newsletter in my ICT coursework (which will not actually be published).

    Thank you for your time,

  • Tom Lawson

    Hi Miranda,

    I’m afraid we can’t give permission to use the photo as we are not the rights holder. You would have to contact the Flickr member directly.

    Best regards,
    Positive News

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