How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low?


8:50 am - August 4th 2011

by Guest    


      Share on Tumblr

contribution by Julia Unwin

Wherever we look the institutions of our society look a little shaky. From Southern Cross to the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust Inquiry, the House of Commons to News International, there are tales of dodgy behaviour, unaccountable practices, sloppy thinking and downright criminality.

Our regulators, charged with protecting the public, seem to be letting us down, and newspapers and commentators gladly pour scorn on bodies such as the Care Quality Commission and the Press Complaints Commission, which seem to have failed in their task of preventing bad behaviour.

Even the arbiters of our justice system, the Police, are facing accusations of corruption and malpractice.

Is trust possible in our society anymore? And if it isn’t, what does that mean for those making important policy decisions?

Julia Neuberger, writing about the nature of social evil, warned: “Unless we rethink our obligations and the trust we accord to those in charge, we will become even more cynical, atomistic and individualistic. Then there really will be no such thing as society.”

If we don’t trust our institutions or political leaders and think that any newspaper commentary is inspired by baser motives, how can we create solutions that lead to social change and address inequalities in our society?

This lack of trust comes at a time of severe austerity, with shrinking resources for charities and organisations that could speak up about social need for poorer people and places.

As Polly Toynbee so powerfully argues: “to make sense of the world, there is an obligation to seek out evidence and trust to expertise.” There has never been a greater need for robust evidence that can be trusted.

When it comes to decisions affecting people in poverty, we cannot afford to squander that knowledge and experience, nor allow it to be discounted.

Research rooted in real evidence is essential to shine a light on what is really happening to people and places in poverty. Decisions which ignore this evidence and the experiences of poorer people need to be challenged fiercely.


Julia Unwin is chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest post.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Our democracy

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


1. Serial pedant

Fairly sure the “arbiters of the justice system” are judges, not the police. Don’t let that get in the way of a snappy sentence though.

Quick thoughts:

1) Author (JU) says: “As Polly Toynbee so powerfully argues: “to make sense of the world, there is an obligation to seek out evidence and trust to expertise.”

Isn’t the problem precisely that we (by which I mean broadly those who suffer rather than gain from the workings of the state) that we’ve trusted ‘expertise’ too much? Polly simply reflects the orthodoxy of New Labour managerialism and it’s ‘what works’ approach which ignores power assymetries.

2) JU says: “Research rooted in real evidence is essential to shine a light on what is really happening to people and places in poverty.”

I’m not sure there is any real counter-movement to this. Who exactly is prima facie ‘anti-research’ (though the question of who pays for it is relevant)? I think the more relevant issue to tackle is what kind of research is seen as valid. At the moment only positvist, statistics based research is seen as ‘evidence’, and there is certainly a challenge to make the state take seriously different forms of research seriously. That may be JU’s point, but if it is it should be made more clearly.

3) 3) JU says: “This lack of trust comes at a time of severe austerity, with shrinking resources for charities and organisations that could speak up about social need for poorer people and places.”

In this lies an assumption that only charities and civil organisations can create/maintain social trust. Actually, this flies in the face of evidence that informal ‘networks’ in families, localities and workplaces are what really creates trust amongst people in a way which then allows for social need to be addressed. Charities are important, but they’re a sticking plaster. Political organisation is ignored by JU, but is ultimately more effective.

But the government has a very open and straight-forward answer to questions about where we should repose our trust in future: The Big Society. As he keeps telling us, this is David Cameron’s big idea.

Of course, it’s sad about Fred but no one had volunteered to cover that day.

There is a bit of a perfect storm here, isn’t there? The steady erosion of trust in our institutions as the curtains are pulled aside and we see more of how they work, a scandalously poor press and a debased academia due to the recent fashion for poor scholarship with long words and too little criticism.

I quite agree that we need to regenerate public confidence. The risk is that the easy way would be to close ranks and become more secretive, but the opportunities offered by a crisis of this sort are huge.

“Wherever we look the institutions of our society look a little shaky. From Southern Cross to …”

Sorry, but what has Southern Cross got to do with “the institutions of our society”?

The company failed its quality tests and was unable to restructure the finances underlying its homes, so they are being handed over to others.

You later quote approvingly:”to make sense of the world, there is an obligation to seek out evidence and trust to expertise”.

I see some irony there.

6. theophrastus

‘As Polly Toynbee so powerfully argues: “to make sense of the world, there is an obligation to seek out evidence and trust to expertise.” ‘

It’s a pity that Polly does not take her own advice more often.

@2 “I’m not sure there is any real counter-movement to this. Who exactly is prima facie ‘anti-research’ “?

Answer: pretty much everyone in the media. We live in a very sensationalist environment. If you want to understand how the world works ignore the newspapers. (And I don’t mean this from a Chomskyite “radical” (sic) perspective, just from the viewpoint of facts.

It is impossible to trust anyone in a position of authority when clear evidence exists that they continually lie to you.
Every layer of government operates with a sinister secrecy – from your Parish/Town Council up to the House of Lords.
Prior to the ‘Expenses Scandal’ I wrote to my MP enquiring about the massive increases in the cost of government.
His reply told me that he was not my ‘unpaid researcher’ and what I wanted to know I could find out for myself.
The ensuing scandal explained why he was so reticent. Despite being a serial house swapper he still enjoys all the perks and status afforded an MP.
They promised to restore faith in MPs, they promised to reform the House of Lords, much is promised – nothing is ever delivered.

@8 Barrie J

As a councillor I have to say to you, fuck off.

“Even the arbiters of our justice system, the Police, are facing accusations of corruption and malpractice.”

They should be facing far more than that.

11. Leon Wolfson

@4 – It’s okay, academia is going to be too busy teaching to publish.

Anyway;

Julia – It isn’t that, for example, the Police are not trusted – it that they are AND the Government is trying to hand them back powers from the CPS, which the police were stripped of for good reasons relating to abuses…in a time when trust in the police was STILL higher than today!

It is all the logical progression of capitalism and a consumerist society. All of these scandals derive from placing greater importance on money over honour. The rush for wealth and profit led to all the scandals you mention. The old adage is true, money is the root of all evil.

The problem is that I cannot see how one can reverse such a trend. Until we as a society establish a reward system that values virtue over wealth, more people will be corruptible and the institutions of which they are a part will continue to fail the test of common decency.

Interesting blog – I argued something similar a few weeks ago in response to the announcement of the Leveson Inquiry

http://natcenblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/putting-public-at-heart-of-leveson.html

Its all about consistent results. NHS for example, saved me and most of my family at some pit in the last 20 years. But i’m lucky, the NHS is good, but not that good. I hear that then NHS has the unofficial motto of, “we might save your life, depends…”. I will say this now, privet here is so much better then public – fact!

The same is for other institutions, we trust what works. and nothing works atm.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://bit.ly/o7cPzv

  2. mark a williams

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/12jKKkf via @libcon

  3. Magnus McMagnusson

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://bit.ly/o7cPzv

  4. JRF

    Read @juliaunwin: How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://t.co/DJSvsPg via @libcon

  5. Abigail Scott Paul

    RT @libcon How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://t.co/nTadL6b -> blog by @jrf_uk chief exec @juliaunwin

  6. James Grant

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://t.co/TNt9zwb – blog by @juliaunwin (via @libcon)

  7. JRF

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty

  8. JRF

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty

  9. LSGDOTCOM

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty

  10. LSGDOTCOM

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty

  11. Jenny Sullivan

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty

  12. Rebecca Daddow

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty

  13. David Walker

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty

  14. Stephe Meloy

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://bit.ly/o7cPzv

  15. tostaygold

    Via @McMagnusson RT @libcon How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://bit.ly/o7cPzv

  16. MARY HALL

    Via @McMagnusson RT @libcon How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://bit.ly/o7cPzv

  17. David McMillan

    Via @McMagnusson RT @libcon How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? http://bit.ly/o7cPzv

  18. Thom Poole

    How do we react when #trust in our institutions is so low? | @libcon | http://bit.ly/pb8Upu

  19. Lara Oyedele

    How do we react when trust in our institutions is so low? Blog by JRF Chief Exec @juliaunwin for @libcon http://t.co/n32XtJB #ukpoverty





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.