Increasing Happiness by Understanding What People Want 

A study, compiled by Barrett Values Centre (BVC) in consultation with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and with support from Action for Happiness has found that caring for the elderly and disadvantaged, affordable housing and employment opportunities come top of British citizens’ wish lists.

The report, Increasing Happiness by Understanding What People Want, is based on questions asked to 4,000 people living in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has identified the personal values of people living in the UK, as well as the values they currently experience in their local communities and in the nation as a whole, along with the values they most want to see reflected in their communities and the nation.

The UK is the twenty-fourth country to be studied by BVC in the past five years and  shows that people living in the UK value meaningful, close relationships and operate with a strong sense of integrity. The top personal values selected include caring, family, honesty, humour and fun, friendship, fairness and compassion, as well as independence, respect and trust.

Values currently experienced

When asked what values they currently experience in their local community, responses are closely aligned to these personal values, with respondents pinpointing quality of life, family, friendship and helpfulness. Other values highlighted included safety, community services, buy local and a sense of community. They also indicate that they experience drug/alcohol abuse and uncertainty about the future.

Values operating nationally

In contrast, when asked about the values they see operating in their nation as a whole, the picture is very different. The top values people see in the UK are bureaucracy, crime and violence, uncertainty about the future, corruption, blame, wasted resources, media influence, conflict/aggression, drugs/alcohol abuse and apathy.

Values would like to see operating nationally

When asked which values they would like to see operating, UK citizens identified caring for the elderly and disadvantaged, affordable housing, employment opportunities, accountability, honesty, government effectiveness, effective healthcare, employment opportunities and dependable public services. At a community level, in addition to wanting to see more focus on caring for the disadvantaged and the elderly, people want to have more affordable housing, dependable public services and employment opportunities. They also want to see an increased focus on community services and more concern for future generations.

Phil Clothier, CEO of Barrett Values Centre, said: “It’s great to see that most people feel positive about what is happening in their local communities, but disturbing to see the level of discontent that exists at a national level. Among the top terms people use to characterize the national picture we find bureaucracy, crime, violence, uncertainty about the future, corruption, blame and wasted resources. Citizens do not perceive that our society is operating as they want it to.”


The study also measured the level of dysfunction people feel exists in the UK and their local community – coined in the report as ‘cultural entropy’. The results show a 59% level of cultural entropy at the national level, compared to just 22% at a community level.

With an overall national entropy result of 59%, the UK has one of the highest levels of cultural dysfunction recorded in nine European countries studied by BVC to date. France, Latvia, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark have all recorded better scores than the UK.

Richard Barrett, founder and chairman of BVC said: “After freedom and equality, accountability is the next most important value to put in place in order to build a well-functioning democracy. People in the UK clearly believe that this value, along with honesty, is lacking among our decision-makers. We will only correct this situation if our leaders take up the challenge of building a values-driven society”.

Dr Mark Williamson, director of Action for Happiness, said: “Our values have a huge impact on the society we live in, so this first national assessment of UK values is very welcome. At a time when many people fear we are losing our moral foundations, this research shows that what people in the UK actually value most of all is caring for others. This is reflected both in their personal values and also the values they would most like to see at the national level. I find it very encouraging that, on the whole, we Brits have a deep concern for our fellow citizens and want to live in a society which is compassionate and fair. However, the research suggests that we need political leadership which better reflects the values of the UK people”.

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