January 21, 2022

Loss of public trust in Government is the biggest threat to democracy in England

by Sarah Davidson, Carnegie UK

Trust is the foundation of a functioning democratic system. Effective delivery of public policy on matters such as public health, climate change, and tackling inequalities, requires a certain level of public confidence in Government and in the political system. In recent weeks, we have seen a decline in this trust, placing democratic wellbeing in England under severe threat. 

At Carnegie UK, when we talk about democratic wellbeing, we are referring to the extent to which we all – collectively – have a voice in decisions that affect us. Wellbeing cannot be ‘done’ to people, it has to be done by and with them. Yet, in order for people to feel positive about participating in democratic processes and decision making, it is essential to have public trust at all levels. Today, Carnegie UK is publishing a new report which places democratic wellbeing in England under the spotlight. It outlines the findings of recent YouGov polling to explore what this dimension of wellbeing means to people. The results are stark. 

  • 2 in 5 people in England (41%) now say that democracy is not working. People see the biggest current threat to our democracy as a loss of trust (32%) followed by corruption (16%).
  • 76% of the public in England don’t trust MPs to take decisions that will improve their lives, while 73% don’t trust the UK Government on the same measure. 
  • 46% of the public in England selected honesty and integrity as important values for the government to exemplify. Yet 61% do not believe that the current UK Government reflects these values at all, while 23% believe they ‘slightly’ reflect these values. 

In addition to a loss of trust in UK Government and politicians, the polling indicated issues with current levels of public participation in decision-making; misinformation, and misalignment with public values. 

These are all aspects of our national life that Carnegie UK – as a leading wellbeing organisation – know comprise our collective democratic wellbeing. Yet measures of democratic wellbeing are poorly monitored in the UK and a lack of updated information from official statistics limits our ability to check the temperature of our nation. Without this information, we are unable to anticipate, prepare for, and resolve problems in our democracy. Ultimately, this is having a negative impact on our collective wellbeing. 

Our polling exercise shows how a large amount of information can be gathered from a representative sample of the population relatively quickly. It was undertaken because we had hoped to update the overall GDWe score for 2021 at this point. However, in addition to the two-year time lag for data to become available across all of the domains, updated data for over half of these indicators has been delayed or postponed.

Right now, the world around us is changing in ways that mean it is time to rethink how we help people to live well together. In the context of COVID-19 and the climate emergency, understanding collective wellbeing has never been so important. We must measure the wellbeing of our democracy.

Click here to read the full report and findings.