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Towards an Inclusive UK with Social Progress and Trust

Updated: Apr 29

Trust in the government plays a crucial role in driving social progress and ensuring the well-being of communities. However, in the United Kingdom, trust levels have declined over the years, with only a third of the population expressing confidence in their national government. This erosion of confidence extends beyond politics, permeating institutions like the police force and highlighting the pressing need for trust-building measures. The UK will have to adopt a comprehensive and coordinated approach that acknowledges the interconnectedness of social outcomes, draw inspiration from successful models around the world, help rebuild trust and reach the unheard voices of the population.

In the 2023 Social Progress Index, we see that the UK has declined on social outcomes (see figure below) compared to what it’s expected based on their GDP per capita. However, similar high-income countries are performing much better, such as Japan and Canada. When we dive deeper into the social indicators that the UK is lagging behind, we discover even more disparities. 

The approach of trickle-down economics, exemplified by political regimes in the UK and the US, has proven not to be completely effective because wealth not always benefits all segments of society, particularly those most in need. In the United States, the wealth of working families saw minimal growth in 2019, while the top 1% experienced a staggering increase of US$29 trillion in their wealth, and at the same time, the national debt increased. In the UK, the implementation of "Trussonomics," a 45-day economic policy introduced by Prime Minister Liz Truss, perversely impacted market trust in the UK economy. The government attempted to stimulate economic growth through a series of measures, including a reduction in the 45% tax rate for high-income earners. Consequently, this approach damaged the financial market confidence, resulting in a historically low value of the pound and soaring inflation rates. This exacerbated inequality during a time of heightened cost-of-living challenges, further eroding public trust.

The system has broken for ordinary people.

Analysing the Social Progress Time Series that covers the last 30 years, we observe significant advancements in Access to Information and Communications (+60.3 points), Access to Advanced Education (+19.9 points), and Health and Wellness (+15.7 points). These achievements reflect the potential for progress and highlight the positive impact of targeted initiatives.

However, a closer analysis of the Opportunity dimension reveals areas of concern. In the following graph, we can see that Personal Rights, Personal Freedom and Choice, and Inclusiveness have faced setbacks or experienced inconsistent progress since 2017. These findings underscore the need for dedicated efforts to safeguard individual rights, promote personal freedoms, and foster a truly inclusive society that leaves no-one behind. 

Rebuilding trust requires transparency, accountability, and meaningful engagement between the government and communities. Empowering marginalized voices and increasing representation in decision-making processes is crucial to ensure that diverse perspectives and needs are adequately addressed.

What can we learn from around the world about reaching the hardest to reach? 

The Reach Alliance, founded by the University of Toronto, has conducted many studies into social progress, finding the hardest to reach are “those living in extreme poverty, the geographically remote, administratively invisible and marginalised”.

Learning from successful models can provide valuable insights into reaching the hardest-to-reach populations. Brazil's Bolsa Familia Program, implemented in 2003, serves as a notable case study of Brazil’s improving the quality of life of marginalized communities and people living in poverty. The Program was a conditional cash transfer programme, reaching 20% of the local population (14.28 million families), and with 75% of the cash transfers reaching its intended beneficiaries. This is remarkable and in stark comparison to other Latin American countries with similar programmes put in place only reaching 35-50%.

The Bolsa Familia Program succeeded because it specifically targeted the 14 million people in the bottom income quintile, by using a variety of systems already in place to locate the hardest to reach, from the use of census data and poverty maps to the work card system and universal birth registrations. Although it was funded by the federal government, it was administered and implemented locally by those with knowledge of local society and situations, minimising corruption and allowing for flexibility. By effectively targeting the bottom income quintile and delivering financial support, the program reduced long-term poverty, improved education for children, contributed to the job market and raised the minimum wage.

There are lots to learn from public health approaches. Rebuilding trust through effective communication and education about the importance of vaccinations, for example, is crucial to prevent further outbreaks and protect public health. In the UK, there has been a significant drop in the number of children vaccinated against 13 diseases, from a whopping cough to diphtheria. Due to various factors, such as vaccine hesitancy and challenges in accessing routine vaccinations during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a notable rise in measles cases in the UK. Experts state that a 95% coverage is necessary to prevent outbreaks but childhood vaccination rates have dropped from 91.2% in 2018 to 90.3% by the end of 2019, leading to experts warning of the potential devastating impacts to come.

Through collaborative efforts, empowering marginalized communities, and learning from successful models, the UK can foster trust, and bridge societal divides. It is through our collective commitment to fairness, equality, and social progress that we can truly leave no one behind. 

Now is the time for community power and citizen led policy design.

By Annette Handal and Pye Nyunt.

Editor: Valeria Horton

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