November 1, 2018

Julia Unwin report examines role of kindness in public policy

by Carnegie UK Trust
  • New report argues that investment in artificial intelligence needs to be matched by a focus on emotional intelligence.
  • Public policy needs to be designed in a way that is open, fair and safe, but also responds to emotions and human connection.

A new report by Carnegie Fellow Julia Unwin CBE has raised key questions around the role of kindness in public policy and how technological advancements in society could directly affect this in the future.

‘Kindness, emotions and human relationships: The blind spot in public policy’ is the product of a two-year fellowship with the Carnegie UK Trust, during which Julia hosted several roundtable events with key stakeholders across the UK to inform and discuss her thinking on kindness.

The report argues that a proper and valuable focus on regulation, measurement and efficiency have crowded out kindness; but the major challenges facing public policy demand an approach that is more centred on human relationships.

The report also includes data from the first quantitative survey on kindness, carried out by Ipsos MORI Scotland, which surveyed over 1,000 people in each UK jurisdiction. The data presents a reassuring picture, with a majority of people generally experiencing kindness in communities and public services. But it also highlights the complexities and inequalities of kindness (see table 1):

  • Two-fifths respondents (42%) strongly experienced kindness when using GP services; this dropped to a fifth (22%) when people were asked about public transport.
  • There is significant regional variation: 25% Londoners strongly feel that they are treated with kindness by their GP, compared to 58% people in the South West of England.

Julia Unwin said: “During the last two years I’ve had the privilege of being supported by Carnegie UK Trust to explore the role of kindness in public policy, through a series of roundtables, speaking and writing. This allowed me to consider the valid and important obstacles which are preventing us from thinking and behaving differently.

“These activities and discussions have confirmed my view that kindness is an issue of concern, not just for those working in communities, but also for those with power and authority. It has also convinced me that this is a question of urgency. With investments in technology and artificial intelligence transforming the world at speed, it is imperative that we focus equally on our emotional intelligence.”

Martyn Evans, at Carnegie UK Trust, said: “We have been very fortunate to have someone with Julia’s vast experience and knowledge of the voluntary sector and public policy involved in the Trust’s work on kindness.

“This report adds significantly to previous work on kindness by the Carnegie UK Trust and others; and runs alongside a number of current Trust-funded projects that aim to develop ideas and practical action to explore and encourage kindness in communities and workplaces.

“Our hope is to build on Julia’s extraordinary and very accessible reflections on this ‘blind spot’ of public policy. There are clear risks to engaging in a discussion on re-designing public policy to better respond to our need for kindness, emotions and human relationships. However, the clear message from this report is that the risks of not engaging are far higher. As Julia concludes, if there is no creative response to the challenge to allow space for kindness in public policy discussions “the results would be disastrous for us all.”

The report is available to read here.

For more information contact Gaynor Kay [email protected] / 0131 260 2528

End Notes

The report was written by Carnegie Fellow Julia Unwin CBE, former Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Julia currently chairs the independent inquiry into the Future of Civil Society.


Table 1: Percentage of respondents in the UK strongly agreeing with statements about kindness in five key public services.

Based on your own experience, or what you have heard from a family member or close friend, to what extent do you agree or disagree that people are treated with kindness when using…
…your GP surgery. 42%
…a public library. 36%
…social care services. 25%
…police services / garda services. 27%
…public transport. 22%
Base size: All excluding ‘don’t knows’