Trust in charities and institutions – what does pessimism mean for messaging?


Trust in charities and institutions – what does pessimism mean for messaging?

Public trust in institutions is at a low - with the exception of the charity sector. This week we're looking into how charities can make the most of this trust to enact change.

Alix Moussy

One of the most useful questions that we ask the public is about their levels of trust in various institutions. The figures that we get back are often very telling, revealing a lot about political and social attitudes. However, we’ve recently been seeing drastic shifts in public views towards certain institutions and services. 

Trust in charities, for example, was at a record high in August this year, trusted by 70% of the public. Our CAM data shows that this figure is a return to historically high levels last seen in 2010 - following years of stagnation.

This mirrors a downward curve in trust for institutions such as the government, banks, police, the legal system, and the media. This is likely the result of economic downturn. As cracks in social care widen, individuals value charities more. As other institutions fail, charities become more essential. 

This theory is backed by our recent sector insight data. But what does this mean for the relationship between charities, the public, and politics? And what conversation can charities engage in to maintain public trust? To answer these questions, we first have to take a deeper look into the context that’s created the current state of public trust and reliance in our institutions. 

To start with, we’re looking at our research on perceptions of social care funding. Social care is widely seen as a key pillar of the government’s role. But, when looking at different demographics’ responses to who they think funds social care in the UK today, we find discrepancies between those who believe it comes from the national and local government, and those who believe it comes from elsewhere.

Millennials, for instance, are far more likely to think of charities as the core provider of social care provision, while the older generations believe it to be the government. This could be the result of millennials growing up within the context of austerity measures, which means that charities are seen as increasingly important to pick up the slack of underfunded institutions. Similarly, when looking at lifestyle, we can determine that individuals of higher social grade (i.e., more affluent) are more likely to believe that the government funds the most social care. This reveals that those who are potentially less likely to rely on social care are more inclined to believe that the government is maintaining it’s role as a provider of these services. As more of the public are impacted by the cost-of-living crisis, however, we can expect to see more of the public recognising – potentially firsthand – the role of charities in providing for people. 

The cost-of-living crisis is only one of many issues, however. The climate emergency, the culture war, and refugee crisis are all likely to be factors driving pessimism. In our recent webinar on planning for 2024, we said that issues are becoming more complex and more deeply entrenched, and so messages of hope are becoming vital in political and public discourse. Charities need to be addressing this in their messaging. Raising awareness for effective solutions to social problems in the long-term needs to be a priority, addressing the root of the problem, as much as your organisation can.

Perhaps these trends will change as we approach the upcoming general election. Charities could likely benefit from a shift in the political status quo, especially considering that previous Labour governments were more open to consultation with charities. What we will likely see is a focus on state-led initiatives in the upcoming election, however, as Labour will almost certainly seek to prioritise the restoration of state social care. Charities should still use their voices to propose collaboration though - especially as the sector is currently one of the few well-trusted institutions that the public might look to for positive, unbiased information. 

For more information on our research with the public, consider downloading a briefing pack below.

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