Rebuilding trust and compassion in our communities

In recent years, public trust in the UK government and other institutions to prioritize the interests of local communities has eroded significantly. A recent Ipsos poll, conducted ahead of the local elections, revealed that only 25% of people over 18 in England have faith in ministers to act in the best interest of their local area. Similarly, just 26% feel the same way about large media outlets. These figures paint a concerning picture of communities feeling abandoned and disconnected from those in power.

The poll also found that 57% of people believe local councils have the biggest influence on the quality of life in their community, compared to just 14% for the Parliament at Westminster. This highlights the crucial role that local government plays in shaping our communities. However, trust in local councilors, while higher than other politicians, still lags behind that of police, community groups, and local businesses.

A sense of community is vital to people’s health and wellbeing

The findings of the poll are a stark reminder of the challenges we face as a society. But what has led to this erosion of trust?

One key factor is the growing disconnect between those in power and the communities they serve. In an increasingly centralized political system, decisions that have a profound impact on local communities are often made by those who have little understanding of the unique challenges and needs of those communities. This can lead to a sense of disillusionment and frustration among citizens who feel their voices are not being heard.

Another factor is the perception that public services are deteriorating. Nearly half of respondents in the poll said local services have worsened over the last five years, with the proportion rising to three in five among people aged 55 to 75. When people see their local services declining, despite paying taxes, it’s understandable that they lose faith in the institutions responsible for providing those services.

The poll also found that trust in all public institutions to act in local people’s interests had fallen, with 57% having little faith in local MPs and 53% in the civil service. This suggests a broader crisis of confidence in our political system and bureaucracy. Scandals, corruption, and a perceived lack of accountability have all contributed to this decline in trust.

The role of the media cannot be overlooked either. The poll found that just 26% of people trust large media outlets to act in the best interests of their local area. In an era of fake news, sensationalism, and partisan reporting, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to know who to trust for reliable information about their communities.

So, what can we do to rebuild trust and foster compassionate communities?

Rebuilding trust will require a concerted effort from all levels of government, as well as a commitment to transparency, accountability, and meaningful engagement with communities. It will require a shift towards more decentralized decision-making, where local communities have a greater say in the issues that affect them. It will require investment in public services, to ensure that they are meeting the needs of the people they serve. And it will require a media that is committed to accurate, impartial reporting that helps to inform and empower citizens. To begin this process of rebuilding trust, we need to focus on several key areas:

Firstly, it’s essential that elected officials at all levels prioritize restoring public trust. This begins with local government, where the impact on communities is most keenly felt. Local councilors must engage with their constituents, listen to their concerns, and work to address the issues that matter most to them. Transparency, accountability, and effective communication are key to building trust.

Secondly, we must recognize the importance of community groups and local businesses in creating compassionate communities. The poll found that improvements in services are widely credited to local councils and community groups. By supporting and empowering these grassroots organizations, we can create a more cohesive and caring society.

Thirdly, we need to foster a culture of compassion within our communities. This means looking out for one another, offering support to those in need, and celebrating our diversity. When we build strong, compassionate communities, we create a foundation of trust that can weather even the most challenging times.

Finally, we must demand more from our national government and institutions. The poll found that of those who think public services are getting worse, more than half place a “great deal” of the blame on the UK Government. It’s time for our leaders to step up, listen to the concerns of communities, and take action to address them.

The decline in public trust did not happen overnight, and rebuilding it will take time. But if we are to create a society that is truly inclusive, compassionate, and resilient, it is a challenge we must be willing to undertake. By understanding the root causes of this decline in trust, we can begin to chart a path forward – one that puts communities at the heart of decision-making and ensures that no one is left behind.

Victoria Armstrong is Communications Assistant at the Global Compassion Coalition.

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