Social connections and their value

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) uses Understanding Society to measure social capital in the UK

The ONS has published An Analysis of Social Capital in the UK using several data from Understanding Society and findings from Insights 2014. The analysis covers four aspects of social capital: personal relationships, social network support, civic engagement and trust and cooperative norms.

In general terms, social capital represents social connections and all the benefits they generate. Without the social connections that link people to each other and lead them to exchange resources, without trust and other cooperative norms of behaviours, society could not function. The networks of individual relationships with family and friends, local community and through civic engagement, form the fabric of a cohesive society.

The findings provide a baseline analysis of social capital in the UK and include:

  • 46% of people belong to a social network website
  • 52% of people are members of organisations, whether political, voluntary, professional or recreational
  • 65% of people would say that most people in their neighbourhood can be trusted
  • 71% of people agree or strongly agree that people around whether they live are willing to help their neighbours

Recent government evidence, submitted by the Cabinet Office to the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee as part of their inquiry on well-being, recognised that social capital is one of the three pillars of sustainable development to be considered together with natural capital and human capital. It highlighted the need for better evidence and further in-depth research to better understand social capital. The current ONS work, as part of the Measuring National Well-being Programme, is helping to build the evidence-base to better understand social capital, using data from existing sources (largely Understanding Society).

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