The relationship between the British people and their government has hit a significant low point. While this may not come as a surprise to many, this is an alarming trend as an election looms and we enter one of the most turbulent years in recent memory.
Trust in the institution of government is at its lowest since 2012, falling 15 points this year from 2021, according to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer. 60% of Brits now say the government is “completely ineffective as an agent of positive change”.
On the one hand we have the major challenges of our time in climate change, technological advancements, and shifting geopolitics, and on the other we have a public that has already repeatedly suffered at the hands of domestic crises – Covid, soaring inflation, and energy costs. Today’s Trust Barometer indicates that people have little faith in government to have a handle on any of it. Now, or in the future.
That people are concerned about the threats posed by the advancements we are seeing in the world is hardly surprising. Who could blame them?
But change alone doesn’t necessitate fear. What we are seeing is a deep-rooted fear of change because people can’t clearly see the direction of travel or what it means for them. People are losing faith in institutions to navigate the path ahead - a path increasingly obscured by opaque, technical, and highly complex barriers.
Nearly 2 in 3 people in the UK are concerned that society is changing too quickly and not in ways that benefit them, and more than half feel the same way about the pace of technological innovations.
For example, 66% think people in government do not have an adequate understanding of emerging technologies to effectively regulate them, and this from data compiled just after last November’s inaugural AI Safety Summit, hailed at the time by the Prime Minister as a major breakthrough on AI regulation.
The trust of the people is not a nice-to-have. It is the foundation stone of our social contract. A government establishment that does not build trust will always struggle to convince people of its effectiveness in delivering its vision of the future. And the public won’t see themselves in that future and will be less inclined to respond positively to change.
We should say, that like government, business faces a similarly challenging task ahead. There is slightly higher agreement with the idea that business offers a vision for the future that people believe in than there is disagreement. But faith has been dented in its efficacy, honesty, and principles, following years in which expectations have soared around CEOs taking a stand on social issues.
Trust in our institutions is so low, it’s no surprise that the effectiveness of trusted information is under threat. The majority of the British public are concerned that government and business leaders, along with journalists, purposefully try to mislead them by saying things they know to be false. We are without the ideas we need to hear from the leaders we need to hear them from. 62% of Brits are worried the UK government’s leaders are purposely trying to mislead people, and more than half are worried about other countries waging an information war against us by purposefully contaminating our media.
Redressing the imbalance between fear and hope will require a seismic restoration of our faith in information. As the UK prepares to go to the ballet box later this year, a year in which more people on earth will go to the ballot box than at any point in human history, people deserve leaders, ideas, and innovations they can trust.
Our institutions need to work together to help people understand our changing world, from AI to climate change, with information that inspires, informs, educates, and mobilises people. The responsibility of improving our collective understanding on the issues that affect us all is shared.
Trusted information is essential to reclaim the ground we have lost to distrust. Without it, we have little hope of realising a future that we can all see ourselves in.