According to the The Behavioural Insights Team, social trust is one of the most important measures that most people have never heard of. Until a few days ago I was one of them. I first came across the term in the book ‘The Social Animal’ by David Brooks. I would recommend it highly by the way (both the book and trust).
Social trust is as good an indicator of a country’s performance as other economic factors and better than things such as skills. The problem is that in the UK, it is slipping. Social trust is getting worse. So should we be worried?
As the Behavioural Insights Team says, ‘Low trust implies a society where you have to keep an eye over your shoulder; where deals need lawyers instead of hand-shakes; where you don’t see the point of paying your tax or recycling your rubbish (since you doubt your neighbour will do so); and where you employ your cousin or your brother-in-law to work for you rather than a stranger who would probably be much better at the job.’
In the UK these things are getting worse. We are much less trusting of our fellow citizens than we once were yet this is not a global trend. Social trust is increasing in other parts of the world. This shift is something we should rail against as ultimately it affects us all. The less trusting we are then the less trust people will have on us. It is a lose lose scenario, the opposite of what Stephen Covey talked about. In his words, ‘If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy.’
As the Behavioural Insights Team says Social trust is a deep-seated indicator of the health of societies and our economies. It merits much more attention than it gets. We all need to make a start.