18 July 2019

The benefits of boosting neighbourhood trust

By Sam Lampier

Bright Blue’s new report, Distant neighbours? Understanding and measuring social integration in England, explores the trends and drivers of neighbourhood trust — a phenomenon indicative of positive, meaningful and sustained interactions with people in a community — which should be at the heart of our understanding of social integration.

Still, a key question is: why is this important? There is strong evidence for the economic, social and political benefits of high levels of neighbourhood trust.

First, economic benefits. Evidence has suggested a link between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates and high levels of local community trust, with a 2010 report in the UK finding that a ten percentage point increase in the confidence factor increases the GDP growth rate by 0.5%.

Second, social benefits. Numerous studies have found that high levels of neighbourhood trust are associated with lower levels of violent and overall crime, as well as a reduced fear of crime. Researchers from the World Bank have argued that this is because relatively high levels of mutual confidence in a community require a large majority of a group to share similar social norms. Higher levels of neighbourhood trust have also been found to be associated with higher levels of volunteering and civic engagement.

Conversely, lower levels of neighbourhood trust are associated with a higher risk of radicalisation, as those who do not feel a part of a community often feel isolated, creating grievances which see individuals turn to extremist organisations.

Finally, political benefits. Trusting people in your local area is an important contributor to a healthy political culture, including confidence in political and civic institutions such as elections, courts, and officials.

Along with substantial public benefits, high levels of neighbourhood trust are associated with significant private benefits, namely related to education, relationships, and health.

What is more, it has also been found to improve educational attainment, with studies finding that individuals who report higher levels of neighbourhood trust are more likely to achieve university-level qualifications.

High levels of trust toward local community members is also likely to enable people to build larger and stronger social networks, which can have a powerful positive effect on those living in poverty. In ethnically and religiously diverse areas, high levels of trust are more likely to yield diverse social networks, which is in turn associated with less likelihood of living in poverty.

Some of the strongest evidence behind the benefits of high levels of neighbourhood trust can be found in health outcomes, with numerous studies finding a strong association between the factor and levels of happiness, life satisfaction and, self-rated health. Links have also been found between community trust and children’s mental health. In fact, one study predicted that moving just 10% of people from being generally un-trusting to generally trusting of their neighbours would lead to a 2.3 per 100,000 of the population drop in the suicide rate.

Our new report not only puts forward policy recommendations to try and strengthen social integration, but also uniquely outlines how levels of neighbourhood trust and social integration vary across England. Statistical analysis conducted for the report found significant variation in predicted levels of neighbourhood trust among local authorities across England. The top ten local authorities with the lowest levels of it in England are all in London.

Focusing on individuals, women and those from ethnic minority groups across England are less likely to trust most of their neighbours, compared to men and white individuals, respectively. On the other hand, the likelihood of trusting most of your nearby residents increases as people become older, and those with higher socioeconomic status and higher individual income have a higher likelihood of trusting the majority of their local community.

And what about local-level factors? Rural areas, areas with a greater proportion of married households with children, and areas with a greater proportion of the population being over 65 years old were all areas where levels of neighbourhood trust are predicted to be higher. Meanwhile, individuals living in areas with higher levels of deprivation in terms of income and in terms of crime are less likely to be predicted to trust most of their neighbours. Furthermore, people in areas with a greater than 5% decrease in White British population change in the ten years between 2001 and 2011 were less likely to be predicted to trust most of their local community.

Furthermore, there is an association between high levels of ethnic diversity in a local area and lower levels of neighbourhood trust in England. Nevertheless, there are important nuances. Intriguingly, in local areas where more than 30% of migrants cannot speak English well, an increase in ethnic diversity is actually associated with a predicted increase in levels of neighbourhood trust. This could be due to frequent interactions between ethnically homogeneous groups, rather than between ethnically heterogeneous groups. Alternatively, in these areas, there might be lower barriers to interaction, as residents in those areas are more used to people from different backgrounds and those who cannot speak English well.

There are significant benefits to be gained from improved neighbourhood trust and social integration. While it is ultimately up to people to develop relationships in ways they see fit, public policy should set its sights on strengthening both.

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Sam Lampier is a Researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of Distant neighbours? Understanding and measuring social integration in England.