Government, New Data

Trust in the United Kingdom

2 minute read

By Fabrice Murtin (, Centre for Well-Being, Inclusion, Sustainability, and Equal Opportunity (OECD)

Measuring different aspects of trust can help understand whether people believe that they are being listened to or that institutions are serving their needs. The Trustlab survey carried out in the UK in June 2018 covers a large number of groups and institutions and allows for a detailed analysis of possible causes of distrust.

Possible causes of distrust in government

An analysis of a large range of potential societal, individual and institutional determinants of people’s trust in government suggests that distrust mainly arises because people do not believe that the government is catering to their needs (Figure 1). The strongest associations are with people’s perceptions that the government would be unreliable if a natural disaster occurred, and that high-level politicians are likely to engage in corruption. People with lower trust in government also believe that there is not much opportunity to climb the social ladder.

Figure 1: Factors more strongly associated with people’s distrust in government, United Kingdom

Note: This regression analysis follows the methodology used in Murtin et al. (2018).

People in the top 10% of the income distribution are more trusting, especially of government and politician

Beyond low average trust, the polarisation of trust between different groups in society has been a serious concern. Trustlab allows analysing differences in trust between people in different income groups (Figure 2). The results show that differences are largest for trust in government, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and politicians in general. In all these cases, people in the top 10% of the household income distribution are substantially more trusting than those in the bottom 20%. Differences between income groups are much smaller for trust in neighbours, professionals and refugees, suggesting that people with low income are not inherently more distrustful, but rather focus their distrust on government institutions.  Moreover, all income groups have considerably lower trust in politicians and journalists than in other people.

Figure 2: Differences in trust and beliefs among household income groups in the United Kingdom

The measure explained

The OECD’s Trustlab platform asks respondents situational questions about their expectations of the behaviour of the government and politicians. These questions form the basis for the analysis of the drivers of people’s (self-reported) trust towards various groups and institutions. For example, a question on whether respondents believe that parliamentarians would accept a bribe in exchange for a political favour tests people’s views of government integrity and high level corruption; similarly, a question on whether the government involves citizens in decision-making processes tests their perception of government openness.

Trustlab is a collaborative data collection project between the OECD and a network of academic partners. Aside from deriving some experimental measures of trust, a detailed questionnaire asks people about their trust in various groups and institutions, as well as preferences and attitudes towards a range of societal issues. In the case of the United Kingdom, the OECD collaborated with the London School of Economics to develop an additional set of questions related to trust, beliefs and preferences. 

Further reading