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Power to the people! Community groups’ role in a healthy democracy

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In this blog post, Jamie Evans, who is a Researcher at CDF, explores the findings of their latest research ‘Trust and democracy: how community groups bridge the gap between people and politics’.

In our latest research, we demonstrate that community groups play a hugely important role in the functioning of a healthy democracy, bridging the gap between people and politics. In this blog post, I’d like to briefly take you through some of our findings and explain what the new Government could do to help community groups continue their fantastic work over the next few years.

What did we find?

Survey Results Bar Chart

1. Only 25% of people trust Parliament, whilst 50% trust the democratic process

As shown in the graph above our survey respondents have limited trust in national political institutions. We need to find new ways of bridging this divide and restoring trust in democracy.

2. Trust improves considerably at the local level

Our respondents were much more trusting of their local councillors and local MP compared to national Parliament. People in the local community were trusted by far the most and community activity appears to help build much stronger trust.

3. People want their voices heard in the local decision-making process

Many people that we surveyed said that they would be more trusting of the political system if they felt that those in politics listened more to their opinions. 92% agreed that ‘local people should be involved in the design and delivery of their local public services’. Through community groups, we believe that people have more of an opportunity to have their voices heard.

4. Community activity is often the start of individuals’ political journeys

We spoke to a number of councillors who had first got involved in politics because they were part of a community group of one kind or another. A third of our survey respondents said that they had taken on more formal civic or political roles because of their involvement in community activity, whilst 45% said that it had made them more interested in politics.

So, what should be done?

Government should encourage and enable voluntary work

Given the importance of community activity, it’s vital that we give as many people as possible the chance to take part. Offering paid volunteering leave, simplifying some of the processes and paperwork associated with community activity, and clarifying where volunteers stand on legal issues could all help make it a little easier for people to get involved.

Government at all levels needs to recognise the value of community groups and support their work

We want local and national government to appreciate the fantastic work that small voluntary organisations can do and make sure that the support they need is readily available. All levels of governance could better work together with community groups, sharing more resources, expertise and, of course, funding.

Local government should involve local people in the decision-making process

It would be great to see more meaningful consultations taking place in local communities, perhaps making use of new technologies to get as many people involved as possible. It’s crucial that such consultations are more than just tick-box exercises though.

Why did CDF commission this research?

We wanted to conduct this research because much has been said and written recently about the health of the UK’s democracy. All the stats have pointed towards a growing disenchantment with formal politics in the UK; turnout and satisfaction with Government, for example, are nowhere near the highs they once reached. We wanted to explore what these trends were all about and what could be done to reverse them.

We were particularly interested in the levels of trust that people have in various political institutions and how this compares to other non-political groups and organisations. We believed that participation in community activity was a great way of building trust.

In order to investigate this we conducted a survey of approximately 600 people, analysed data from the Government’s nationwide Community Life survey and interviewed a number of individuals involved in some form of civic or political activity.

To find out more please take a look at www.cdf.org.uk/trust-in-democracy where you can read the report and watch a video summary of the research.

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