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Measuring National Well-being: Measuring Social Capital Consultation Response

Background

In general terms, social capital represents social connections and all the benefits they generate. Social capital is associated with civic participation, civic-minded attitudes and values which are important for people to cooperate, such as tolerance or trust. Social capital is important for the well-being of individuals, communities and nations.  In July 2014, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an article on social capital, as part of the ONS Measuring National Well-being programme. The article outlined the framework for measuring social capital adopted by the ONS and is based on an earlier report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2013). The article suggested a list of 19 social capital headline measures and some possible other measures under the four aspects of social capital (Personal Relationships, Social Network Support, Civic Engagement and Trust and Cooperative Norms). The measures were developed following a set of criteria described in the article. ONS asked for feedback on the framework used and on the draft set of measures proposed.

Summary of changes

ONS received ten responses to the consultation from a range of stakeholders including an international organisation, government departments and charities.

The feedback received suggested that stakeholders are interested to use the social capital framework and measures. Having a social capital framework with a set of social capital measures was highlighted as useful for policy makers in helping to create the conditions for a bigger, stronger and active society, with fewer inequalities.

The feedback provided on the framework was positive, with no changes suggested. However, some suggestions were made to include additional measures. Following this feedback, ONS has produced a revised set of headline measures, which now has 25 measures across the four different aspects of social capital, broken down into:

  • Seven headline measures for Personal Relationships (including one new measure)

  • Four headline measures for Social Network Support (including one new measure)

  • Seven headline measures for Civic Engagement (including two new measures)

  • Seven headline measures for Trust and Shared Norms (including two new measures).

The revised list of headline measures for social capital can be found in Annex A and in the table (33 Kb Excel sheet)  of measures for social capital. More details on the justification for inclusion of the new headline measures can also be found in Annex A.

Next steps

Analysis of the social capital measures: ONS will undertake more in-depth analysis of the social capital measures, to provide a better picture of the different aspects of social capital in the UK. A first article will be published early 2015.

The ONS will continue to develop and refine the measures of social capital, in particular in the following areas:

  • The measurement of bridging social capital: Bridging social capital describes networks which bring together people of different backgrounds whereas bonding capital refers to networks of people of similar backgrounds. Bridging ties have been highlighted as important for social cohesion and for avoiding problems between people of different backgrounds (Putnam, 2000). The concept of bridging social capital underpins a lot of the integration work by various government departments. The modern Great Britain is an increasingly diverse place in terms of socio-economic circumstances, age, ethnicity and nationality. The Social Integration Commission is currently investigating the extent to which people in Great Britain interact and form relationships with others from different backgrounds. The commission is also seeking to understand the financial and social benefits or costs associated with different levels of social integration.  In the Happy City Index, bridging social capital is captured in terms of age and ethnicity, taking account of the positive impact of inter-generational and inter-ethnicity interactions in terms of well-being. There is currently no measure of bridging social capital in the Personal Relationships domain, but the ONS is investigating the possibility of including such a measure in the future. 

  • Trust in institutions: trust in institutions often refers to trust in government in the social capital literature. Trust in other institutions includes trust in local authorities, trust in the police or the judicial institutions, trust in the health system, trust in the media but also trust in charities or businesses and banks, etc.  Trust in other institutions is an important aspect of social capital, for a healthy functioning society. The ONS is currently reviewing whether to include a composite measure of trust in the various institutions in the future.

  • The role of social media in social capital: there is currently a gap in measurement identified for social media use. Indeed, social media must have considerable implications for social capital as social media is a major source of social connections and personal relationships, but may also function to provide social support and civic engagement, and is also relevant to trust and shared norms. However, there are few survey questions related to social media use and social connections, and it is an area which still requires considerable more research.

If you have any comments regarding the measures and the current social capital programme of work, please send them to: nationalwell-being@ons.gov.uk.

Annex A - Revised social capital measures and justification for the inclusion of new headline measures

Personal relationships

Proportion of people who meet socially with friends, relatives or work colleagues at least once a week
Proportion of people who have at least one close friend
Proportion of people who regularly stop and talk with people in neighbourhood
Proportion of people who belong to a social network website
Average rating of satisfaction with family life
Average rating of satisfaction with social life
Proportion of people who have felt lonely all or most of the time (over previous two weeks)

  • The measure “proportion of people who have felt lonely all or most of the time over the previous 2 weeks” (Source: European Quality of Life Survey) has been added in the Personal Relationships domain. This measure is different from social isolation, which is when an individual has no contacts at all with others. Loneliness is a subjective measure which describes a feeling that can be experienced in the presence of others.  It has been defined as a “mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want” (Perlman and Peplau, 1981). Nevertheless, loneliness is often experienced by individuals who do not have a wide, supportive network of family or friends and is associated with lower personal well-being (ONS, 2013). It has been shown to have very detrimental impact on both physical and mental health. The measure is already at the heart of several government policies, community interventions and research to tackle loneliness, in particular in old age – such as for example, the Campaign to End Loneliness.

Social Network Support

Proportion of people who have a spouse, family member or friend to rely on if they have a serious problem
Proportion of people who give special help to at least one sick, disabled or elderly person living or not living with them
Proportion of people who borrow things and exchange favours with their neighbours
Proportion of people who regularly receive either practical or financial help from a parent or from a child aged 16 or over not living with them

  • The measure “proportion of people who regularly receive either practical or financial help from a parent or from a child aged 16 or over not living with them” (Source: Understanding Society) has been added in the Social Network Support domain, to provide a better balance of giving and receiving measures. The kind of support than an individual can get from a parent or from a child aged 16 or over not living with them listed in this measure is: getting a lift in their car (if they have one); shopping for them, providing or cooking meals; washing, ironing or cleaning; dealing with personal affairs (such as paying bills, writing letters); decorating, gardening or doing house repairs; giving financial help or anything else. The specific support that an individual can get from a parent listed in this measure is looking after their children. The specific support that an individual can get from a child aged 16 or over not living with them included in this measure is help with basic personal needs like dressing, eating or bathing.

Civic engagement

Proportion of people who volunteered in the last 12 months
Proportion of people who have been involved in at least one social action project in their local area in the previous 12 months
Proportion of people who voted in the UK General Elections
Proportion of people who have been involved in at least one political action in the previous 12 months
Proportion of people who are definitely, very or quite interested in politics
Proportion of people who are members of organisations, whether political, voluntary, professional or recreational
Proportion of people who definitely agree or tend to agree tend that they can influence decisions affecting their local area

  • The measure “proportion of people who are members of organisations, whether political, voluntary, professional or recreational” (Source: Understanding Society) has been added in the Civic Engagement domain. This is an important measure of the national social fabric. People also form social connections through being members of organisations, which is important for life satisfaction and to build trust. The measure includes membership to the following organisations: political party; trade union; environmental group; parents/school association;  tenants/residents group or neighbourhood watch; religious group or church organisation; voluntary services group; pensioners group/organisation; scouts/guides organisation; professional organisation; other community or civic group; social club/working men's club; sports' club; women's institute/townswomen's guild; women's group/feminist organisation; other group or organisation.

  • The measure “proportion of people who definitely agree or tend to agree that they can influence decisions affecting their local area (Source: Community Life Survey) has been added in the Civic Engagement domain. The beliefs an individual has regarding his/her power or ability to affect situations or decisions is derived from the theory of so-called self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977).Self-efficacy is thought to be an important factor in an individual’s ability to engage in behaviours contributing to social capital (Bandura, 1994). If individuals within a local area feel they can influence their local area, local community empowerment is more likely. Community empowerment refers to the process of local communities taking ownership and action for shaping the services and the environment in the area where they live. Community empowerment is likely to be higher for communities who are well equipped to take part and influence local decisions.

Trust and cooperative norms

Proportion of people who have trust in national Government
Proportion of people who would say that most people can be trusted
Proportion of people who would say that most people in their neighbourhood can be trusted
Proportion of people who agree or strongly agree that people around whether they live are willing to help their neighbours
Proportion of people who feel safe or very safe to walk alone in their local area after dark
Proportion of people who feel very or fairly strongly that they belong to their local area
Proportion of people who definitely agree or tend to agree that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together

  • The measure “proportion of people who feel very or fairly strongly that they belong to their local area (Source: Community Life Survey) has been added in the Trust and Cooperative Norms domain. The sense of belonging to a social group (such as family, friends but also recreational groups, volunteering or political organisations) has been highlighted as a very important universal human need by theorists (Ryan and Deci, 2000; Maslow, 1954); consequently, it is likely to be very important for health and personal well-being. A sense of belonging to the local area indicates a feeling of connection and acceptance within the local community. People who feel that they belong to their local area are likely to have established a social network within their neighbourhood. Their sense of belonging to their local area might be increased if they are involved in their local community, through civic-minded activities such as volunteering in local organisations or local social actions. People are also more likely to feel connected to their local area if trust and other social values such as helpfulness, politeness and tolerance are predominant in their neighbourhood.

  • The measure “Proportion of people who definitely agree or tend to agree that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together” (Source: Community Life Survey) has been added in the Trust and Cooperative Norms domain.  People can have a different background in terms of age, sex, socio-economic group, ethnicity, nationality or beliefs. If people of different backgrounds get on well together in a local area, one can reasonably assume at best some form of social contacts between people of different backgrounds in the local area, or at least some social values of trust, tolerance and respect within the community.

References

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy, in Ramachaudran. V.S (ed.) Encyclopedia of Human Behaviours. New York: Academic Press.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harper

OECD, Scrivens, K. and Smith C. (2013) ‘Four Interpretations of Social Capital: An Agenda for Measurement’, OECD Statistics Working Papers, 2013/06, OECD Publishing

Office for National Statistics, Beaumont  J. (2013) ‘Measuring National Well-being, Older people and loneliness’

Perlman, D and Peplau, LA., 1981. Toward a social psychology of loneliness. In R. Gilmour and S. Duck (eds), Personal Relationships 3: personal relationships in disorder (pp 31–43) (Academic Press, London)

Putnam, R. (2000), Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Simon and Schuster, New York

Ryan, R.M. and Deci , E.L.(2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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