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by Rob Lownie
Thursday, 30
March 2023
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12:06

Trust in UK institutions slumps since pre-pandemic

Instability and bad decisions have eroded public confidence
by Rob Lownie

Public confidence in national institutions like the Government and Parliament has markedly declined since 2018, a new report has found. In the period, which includes the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns — as well the political instability which has seen four prime ministers in No.10 Downing Street — trust in the police, media and main political parties has also decreased. 

The study, published today by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, polled 24 countries on their attitudes to various national institutions. Just 22% of Britons now say they have confidence in Parliament, down from 32% in 2018 and a historic low since the survey began in 1981. The current figure for the belief in the Government is 24%, down from 29% five years ago. 


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Though distrust of institutions is widespread in the UK, it is particularly pronounced among the younger generation, with a clearly observable split by age. The Pre-War generation and Baby Boomers are more likely to have confidence in Parliament (34% and 28% respectively), while Millennials and Generation Z are less inclined towards a belief in authority — the figures for the latter two age groups are 17% and 18% respectively. 

In response to nearly every question posed, the UK ranked lower for trust than other high-income countries, while there has been a significant decline in public confidence in lawmakers and law-enforcers. When it comes to trusting the press, only Egypt (8%) ranked lower than the UK (13%), with just 5% of British Gen Z-ers expressing trust in the media. This comes after reports of perceived bias in press coverage, with particular criticism coming in for how the British media covered the coronavirus pandemic and the Government response to it. 

Just one in eight people in the UK now have confidence in the country’s political parties, down from 16% in 2018, with even Britons born before the Second World War carrying 16% support. These figures are well below those of other well-off European nations like Norway (36%), Sweden (32%) and Germany (23%). This reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the UK’s political duopoly, and a recognition of the the claims of corruption and cronyism which have dogged both the Conservatives and the Labour Party. 

British confidence in the police currently stands at 67%, though this is down from 87% in 1981, and is notably lower than countries like Norway (88%), Germany (86%) and Sweden (86%). This follows the recent, damning Casey Report which judged the Metropolitan Police to be ‘institutionally sexist, racist and homophobic’, as well as previous accusations of systemic corruption. Between age groups, Generation Z is considerably more likely to distrust the police, with only 44% confidence. Amongst those born before the War, support has fallen by 19 percentage points in the last four decades, from 89% to 70%.

The UK is now behind most of its European peers for trust in the structures of Government and the political party system. Scandals in the upper echelons of power and documented abuses in policing have resulted in a loss of faith in the organisations which are meant to inform and protect us. At the same time, one foreign institution has bucked the trend and gained in popularity: the European Union. The organisation now enjoys 39% trust among Britons, significantly higher than the proportions for Government or Parliament. This has increased from 32% in 2018, and follows a continued rise since the UK’s decision in 2016 to leave the EU.

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Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
6 months ago

It is far worse than this: we have a situation where every daily chore involves call centres that do not answer, and only inform one what cannot be done, no reply e mails, letters with no e mails or telephone numbers, builders and tradesmen who don’t turn up, and go early, deliveries that do not appear, people who will not a cannot make decisions, or answer queries, people who ” take offence” when one attempts to take any opposing view on why something has not been done/ delivered/ is not what was ordered… Hades!!!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
6 months ago

The exception is when one is lucky enough to find an East European… THEN things work and get done!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago

It was probably misguided that confidence was so high in the first place

Last edited 6 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
j watson
j watson
6 months ago

It’s the trend my friend, not the starting point.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  j watson

True but if you start low the only way to trend is up

Gerard A
Gerard A
6 months ago

I would suggest that the increase in the EU standing is more a case of the grass being greener on the other side, especially in comparison with the performance of Johnson, Truss, etc.

Robbie K
Robbie K
6 months ago
Reply to  Gerard A

Certainly peculiar, my confidence in the EU dropped significantly during Brexit negotiations and the covid response.

j watson
j watson
6 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Whereas probably conversely for many in EU suddenly we helped illuminate how much stronger they were together as blustering Britain couldn’t get it’s way.
Every day this summer we Brits have a taste when we queue longer to have our Passport stamped before jumping onto the airport bus to Benidorm. Little things give one time to ponder.

Last edited 6 months ago by j watson
Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago
Reply to  j watson

You may be unaware, but UK citizens now go through the UK and Canadian channel at US immigration (and the last time I went there the UK was an exception in doing so – no queue jumping for EU passports). I think unrelated to Brexit though.
But seriously, most people on here have lived with passport stamping in the past.
In any case, this all goes with biometric checks – there should be no need for passport stamping or needless queueing. Which the EU don’t quite seem to have ready this year. However, as we know, the EU do love their non-tariff barriers.

Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh
6 months ago
Reply to  j watson

How did the EU vaccine roll out go ? So much for stronger together

Robbie K
Robbie K
6 months ago
Reply to  Michael Walsh

Yes, I seem to recall a fast dynamic British response and a blustering EU wallowing in red tape while people died.

j watson
j watson
5 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

But at the time we were in the EU and the rules didn’t preclude any country from doing what we did. We did mobilise faster and come good industrial lessons from that, which we’ve now undone – read Kate Bingham views on the matter as she drove the vaccine programme. In terms of total cost/benefit not entirely clear if EU finished behind us, and we still had the longest lockdowns. A mixed position I think.

Anne Torr
Anne Torr
5 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Rubbish. We had left the EU when the vaccine demand started. Go back and check your timelines. Go back and check how von der Leyen tried to invoke Art 6 of the agreement in Northern Ireland to try to prevent our legal right to supply vaccine to NI. Go back to your time line and remember how EU tried to trash the reputation of the the Astra Zeneca vaccine but still wanted to corner all the output from the Belgian factory.
And when you have finally remembered (if you can) – apologise.
#

B Emery
B Emery
5 months ago
Reply to  j watson

First world problems.
Surely democratic accountability which we regained with Brexit, is more important than how long you have to wait in the queue to get to Benidorm?

j watson
j watson
5 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Err you assume, as many Brexit supporters do, that there was no democratic accountability which of course there was – albeit certainly need some tweaks much like our own democratic accountability in the UK. We had, as we know, many veto options too.
Could have stayed in the Single Market couldn’t we, where we’d made many of the Rules, and which the current TCA obliges to continue to largely follow too. (I think you’ve been mugged off a bit when you actually get into the details).
All trade deals involve ceding somethings. The new CPTPP arbitration system will allow Corporations to sue the UK Govt for treating them unfairly and require us to lower specific environmental standards. Where would you see the democratic accountability in that arrangement? You even aware of it?

Last edited 5 months ago by j watson
D Oliver
D Oliver
5 months ago
Reply to  Gerard A

Pure tribalism and nothing else.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago
Reply to  D Oliver

Being so far above it all, you must be a government worker in Brussels.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
5 months ago
Reply to  D Oliver

Any poll relating to the EU will almost certainly drift toward the 52:48 position.
This poll could rise above 48 if the responders are more middle class in proportion.

j watson
j watson
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Interestingly, and assuming some of the age divide apparent in the Referendum still applies – a number of million who were more likely to have voted Leave have since passed away, whilst being replaced by lots of youngsters who never had the chance to vote in the referendum and evidence suggests more favourable to the EU. It’d certainly be interesting to see how things would play out given these sort of shifts. But I think we all could do without another referendum for now.
That means we have to make the best of a bit of a mess, and those who promulgated lots of benefits need to be repeatedly called to account if these things have not been delivered. Good democratic accountability requires it, and even more so the Leave supporters should demand it as otherwise they’ve been proper mugged off.

Last edited 5 months ago by j watson
B Emery
B Emery
5 months ago
Reply to  j watson

David Cameron spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to negotiate with Europe on terms we needed to bring down immigration and address the concerns of the MAJORITY that voted for Brexit. They would not have it. So we left. That’s what happened.

j watson
j watson
5 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

And immigration increased as we know.
However more specifically Cameron did get agreement to benefits being paid to the value of those in the EU migrants home country. But he also had it pointed out the existing Articles on Free movement gave the UK options it was still not taking – all jobs advertised locally first, minimal capital requirements, no job after 3mths and return, and crucially no ID cards. The lack of ID cards is why so many asylum seekers come across the channel from France, which of course is a safe country. They can more easily disappear here into the black market because we don’t have an ID card system whereas France does.
Genuine question – why didn’t we/don’t we deploy all these options?
The worry is the anti-immigrant/immigration slogans is still being used for political purposes whilst actually not adopting practical policies to tackle it. V apparent more recently where all the stuff about withdrawing from ECHR and making arriving by dingy a criminal offence and then they slip out the reality we are paying France a further £480m for more dune patrols and we’ll still need loads more detention centres. And we’ve not done anything last 2 years to progress this.
It’s a mess and v difficult for anyone to suggest otherwise IMO.

N Satori
N Satori
6 months ago

Conspicuous by its absence from this study is at least one major institution: our universities. Considering how much of what we call ‘woke’ originates there it would be interesting to see if faith in that system to enhance the intelligence of the nation has been eroded since 2018.
I’m also surprised to see such a high level of trust in the police (albeit lower than 2018). Do so many people really think the police are doing a good job of fighting crime? Perhaps in the minds of those studied that aspect of the policeman’s job not the most important – as long as cops are diverse and inclusive. Similar, inexplicably high ratings for the justice system and the courts.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
5 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Does anyone know of a study done on trust in universities. They are the source of many of the divisive policies in society and I am genuinely curious as to how they are perceived.

N Satori
N Satori
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

I’d really like to see a study of how opinion pollsters choose their respondents. An article by Rachel Connor (The sham of those ‘pro-windfarm’ polls, TCW, April 2022) in which she systematically debunked a poll that showed 70% public support for Scottish windfarms, left me with serious doubts about the methods used by pollsters.
Polls and surveys have become an important tool to influence as much as gauge public opinion. It’s a pity that Freddie Sayers, himself a former pollster, hasn’t shared some of his insider knowledge of the subject with UnHerd readers.

Ben Scott
Ben Scott
6 months ago

Has the trust in the Police fallen because of the reports of “Institutional *insert ‘ism here” or because they are all in classrooms learning the latest EDI diktat rather than investigating actual crime?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago

The BBC’s built-in leftwingery is a chicken coming home to roost. It is heartening in a way that people realize they are not getting the truth from the press and generally mistrust it..

Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago

No data recorded for the media (only newspapers it would appear) in general here ? Shoddy work.
In any case, this sort of data is highly subjective. I suggest that the expectations of people in Britain may well be different from those in – for example – France. And the tolerance for deviations from the expected standard almost certainly higher.
For example, all these major French politicians have or had serious criminal convictions: Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy (found guily of corruption, apparently appealing), Christine Lagarde. In the UK they would be sacked immediately and not comntinue in office.
Helmut Kohl was involved in the CDU finance scandal and never brought to face justice for it.
I strongly doubt that the UK is any worse than European countries here (and likely better in many respects). We’re just judging ourselves against a higher standard.

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago

Yes another UnHerd article where you post a comment which is accepted and published … and then that sub-thread suddenly disappears … and then perhaps it comes back again … and disappears again.
I’ve seen this happening under several articles now.
What on earth is going on ? This isn’t rocket science.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
5 months ago

In recent years the government has effectively killed more people than it has protected (cost/benefit Covid, John Hopkins study, etc) and the police have allowed more people to be harmed than they have arrested, so why would anyone be surprised that we ave no faith. After today’s energy insecurity offering from Shapps this lack of trust can only rise. After all, energy is life.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
6 months ago

Thanks, Tony.

j watson
j watson
6 months ago

Blustering/BS/partying Boris and then Mad Liz not the best national prep before a client survey on confidence in Government was it! Let’s hope only us poor souls in UK had that pleasure and now past it.
The Met Police’s prevails again a fairly unique, though v worrying, factor and for younger people, esp women, going to remain a concern for some time as the examples of elements of the culture continue to permeate.
‘Buyers remorse’ on Brexit always going to be a slow ‘burn’ but does appear some of that emerging and hardly a surprise given the shambles and most specifically how it’s clearly demonstrated pretty useless regarding high immigration and stopping rubber dinghies.
I’m not convinced how Govts handled the pandemic, other than when it’s apparent the Rules didn’t apply to those setting them, a primary driver here. So need to resist that being the ‘projection’ without clearer evidence. Cost of Living pressures intuitively feel much more a factor to the extent we’d have been surprised if results didn’t show a deterioration.
(Slightly separate – I did read a fascinating article on how we respond more positively to any Survey on a sunny day or after we’ve had a nice lunch. So some warmth and full belly a potential variable we need a statistical adjustment for!)

Last edited 6 months ago by j watson