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‘Integrity Crisis’ Hailed as Britons Are Found to Be More Dishonest Than a Decade Ago

Posted on the 25 January 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
‘Integrity crisis’ hailed as Britons are found to be more dishonest than a decade ago

Stealing - is it more in Britain tolerated now? Photo credit: Rick Goldman, http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/3555651378/

Britons are less honest than they were a decade ago, according to findings from research conducted by the University of Essex: A survey of 2,000 adults in 2011 found that people are more tolerant of affairs and lying than they were when answering the same questions in 2000. What does this mean for modern society?

People were asked to what extent 10 activities were justified, which included avoiding paying for public transport and throwing litter on the street, with answers rated on a scale from one (never justified) to four (always justified). The results, published on Wednesday in The Independent, showed that young people are more likely to be dishonest than older people and women are likely to have slightly more integrity, but social class and education have no significant effect.

Anything goes… except benefit fraud.  When compared to the results of the same survey conducted 10 years ago, it is no wonder that this is being labelled an “integrity crisis”. The ‘never justified’ responses have fallen in eight out of ten categories, two in three respondents justified lying in your own interest, and the number of people that considered an affair ‘never justified’ dropped from 70 percent in 2000 to 50 percent in 2011. Britons have also demonstrated a tolerance for cannabis, cheating taxes and not reporting damage done to another person’s car. However, the 78percent of people condemning benefit fraud ten years ago had risen to 85 percent; a sign of the current economic climate or the greater impact of The Daily Mail?

It’s not all bad?  Academics have argued, according to The Guardian, that the answers to these questions all depend on context; there are many examples when these actions might be justified, such as speeding to hospital with a sick passenger, or sympathising with a friend in an unhappy marriage, and these might actually show greater tolerance. The BBC reported that Britain has one of the highest levels of integrity in the world, up there with Norway, Israel, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal (in case you’re wondering, the countries at the bottom of the list are Russia and the Czech Republic). It has also been suggested that the under 25s, the group who came off worst from the study, may get older and wiser with time.

No, it is all bad.  The results of the survey have unfortunately coincided with research conducted by PR firm Edelman that public trust in politicians has fallen. Michael White pointed out on The Guardian that trust towards people and institutions we don’t know is vital to functioning of society. Professor Paul Whiteley, the study’s author, claimed his results are important as they are linked to a sense of civic duty: “Empirical research suggests that societies in which trust and integrity are strong perform much better on a range of economic and political indicators than societies where they are weak.” The Telegraph’s Martin Evans explained the link; high trust saves on ‘transaction costs’ (the price paid for doing business) as there is less need for elaborate legal contracts. Greater degree of trust is also linked to better health and education, reduced crime and increased life satisfaction. And as the nail in the coffin, Andrew Grice on The Independent has reminded us that, contrary to the ‘older and wiser’ suggestion, people tend to acquire basic political beliefs in adolescence.

“If social capital is low and people are suspicious and don’t work together, those communities have worse health, worse educational performance, they are less happy and they are less economically developed and entrepreneurial. It really does have a profound effect,” Professor Whiteley told The Independent.

Blame the bankers.  The Independent’s Leading Article argued that the survey results haven’t told us anything new, given the MP expenses scandals and dodgy journalist tactics of late. When interviewed on BBC Breakfast Professor Whiteley agreed with this, suggesting that a reason behind this increased dishonesty was the lack of suitable role models, citing footballers and City bankers as examples. The philosopher Onora O’Neill argued that it is the demands of transparency, such as MP expenses, that might undermine trust in society by the relentless exposure of shortcomings.

So what are we going to do about it?  The survey has, naturally, raised questions over how this can be fixed. Previous solutions have introduced more rules and regulations  but found that these can serve to increase distrust. The Independent has observed a general consensus that trust needs to be rebuilt, visible in David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. However, it may be too late for that already if Professor Whiteley is to be believed, as people with little integrity are less likely to votes in elections or to volunteer. “If integrity continues to decline in the future, then it will be very difficult to mobilise volunteers to support the Big Society initiative”.


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