Britain: a country where we no longer feel in control of our lives. Where institutions wielding power over us are increasingly seen as unethical. Where we’re influenced by events, rather than influencing events. If Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer tells us one thing this year, it’s that we are indeed a country suffering a crisis of confidence.
Everyone—young, old, rich, poor—has serious doubts about the twin pillars of modern Britain: democracy and capitalism. In our 28-country league table, the trust the mass population has in institutions to “do the right thing” is so lacking in Britain today that we are last but one—ahead of Russia!
We say politicians lie. Business is self-interested. CEOs rake it in as staff are automated out. Waves of technology fling us around in the surf while market forces—the gig economy, poor training and education, sluggish growth—threaten our jobs. Our leaders fail to give us confidence they can meet the challenge. Compared to the global average we see our institutions as far less competent and far less ethical. We think they work for themselves, not us.
Many of us believe politicians use public policy issues to create fear and generate political gain. We hear our leaders calling for the healing of divisions, but we see them act in ways that do the opposite. No wonder we feel we live in a divided nation, and that our fellow citizens appear so entrenched that they won’t listen.
Deep breath. Out of darkness there is light. For a start, although we feel divided, we actually agree on what needs fixing – health, crime, living standards, inequality. Even on formerly minority issues –gender equality or LGBTQ+ rights—a majority of us are now in agreement.
With growing certainty comes increasing confidence. Already, Britons feel marginally more positive about the economy and our standard of living. And we trust government more – up 10% since the election.
How then do we take control and rebuild trust as a nation?
First—do the right thing. Institutions must do things that don’t just benefit them financially or politically in the short-term. Instead, they should wrestle with the much more complicated question of what it means to do the right thing by their customers, their employees and their communities, not just shareholders, donors or party members. And then they must act. Not some vague commitment in a glossy brochure, but tangible action. Our data shows people want business to take responsibility, on training, job security, and equality in particular.
Second—partner. Overwhelmingly our findings show people believe government must collaborate with business on vital issues of the moment, such as upskilling to counter the threat of automation. Most people believe they aren’t.
Finally—lead. There’s a thirst for leadership. We’re asking big questions. We want thoughtful answers. Answers that may require leaders of our institutions to embrace difficult change, or even significant reform.
The Great British public is and always will be sceptical of its institutions, so we’re unlikely ever to be top of the pops in trust. That’s ok if in the decade ahead we act to reverse the current loss of faith in Britain’s twin pillars for 300 years: democracy and capitalism. Our institutions are on notice. Trust requires them to act, try harder, do better, do good. Now.