1. Main points
Overall, in the UK in 2020 to 2021, the majority of the reviewed social capital indicators remained at their pre-April 2020 levels; however, people’s experiences varied depending on their characteristics.
Females, older people and those in rural areas tend to be more involved in local social and support networks than males, younger people and those in urban areas.
Females reported having stronger social connections and support links with their local communities than males; 73.6% of females, compared with 65.5% of males, felt that they would receive support from their local community if they needed help during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (Great Britain, May to August 2020).
Social network support tends to increase with age; 65.8% of people aged 65 to 74 years checked on their neighbours who might need help compared with 41.3% of those aged 16 to 24 years (Great Britain, May to July 2020).
Rural areas appear to have stronger community relations than urban areas, although some improvements in social capital in urban communities were observed; the percentage of people who believe that others in general can be trusted increased by 3.9 percentage points in urban areas between 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021 in England.
Following a period of narrowing, the gender gap in feeling safe when walking alone at night in one’s local area increased again to levels seen from 2015 to 2016 through to 2018 to 2019; 69.5% of females reported feeling safe compared with 89.5% of males (England and Wales, 2020 to 2021).
Social capital is a term used to describe the extent and nature of our connections with others and the collective attitudes and behaviours between people that support a well-functioning, close-knit society.
This aspect of social capital refers to the structure and nature of people’s personal relationships and is concerned with who people know and what they do to establish and maintain their personal relationships.
Social network support
This aspect of social capital refers to the level of resources or support that a person can draw from their personal relationships, but also includes what people do for other individuals on a personal basis.
This aspect of social capital refers to the actions and behaviours that can be seen as contributing positively to the collective life of a community or society. It includes activities such as volunteering, political participation and other forms of community actions.
Trust and cooperative norms
This aspect of social capital refers to the trust and cooperative norms or shared values that are beneficial for the society as a whole and which shape the way people behave towards each other and as members of society.Back to table of contents
8. Measuring the data
Social capital indicators
This release focuses on measuring social capital in the UK between April 2020 and March 2021. The selection of analysed indicators is based on the framework of 25 headline measures of social capital proposed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2015, and reported on in 2017 and 2020. However, to ensure data availability for 2020 to 2021, we could not use all original indicators and data sources. Given this release's focus on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have also included some new indicators.
This release's commentary focuses on a selection of indicators and demographic and geographic sub-groups. The full set of social capital estimates and breakdowns, and the full list of indicator changes are available in the accompanying data tables.
The data in this release come from several data sources and have been collected at various times between April 2020 and March 2021. As a result, the estimates are relevant for different countries of the UK and different time periods during 2020 to 2021 (see Data sources in Measuring the data section). Historical comparisons with the latest pre-April 2020 data are provided where available, but their timeliness also varies. In addition, for some of the data sources (for example, the Crime Survey for England and Wales), the mode of data collection changed in 2020 to 2021, compared with pre-April 2020. Therefore, caution should be exercised when making comparisons over-time and between indicators.
All analysed data were known to be current as of 4 January 2022.
The following surveys informed this release:
Understanding Society: COVID-19 Study, March 2021 (Wave 8), UK.
Understanding Society: UK Household Longitudinal Study Main Survey, the 2014 to 2015 (Wave 6, UK) and 2018 to 2019 (Wave 10, UK) for historical comparison data
the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) May to July 2020 (Waves 6 to 19, Great Britain) for the "Checking on neighbours" indicator
the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) May to August 2020 (Waves 6 to 21, Great Britain) for the "Community support" indicator
the Community Life Survey (CLS), April 2020 to March 2021 (England)
the Community Life Survey (CLS), April 2019 to March 2020 (England) for historical comparison data
the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW), May 2020 to March 2021 (England and Wales)
the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), April 2019 to March 2020 (England and Wales) for historical comparison data
Please note that for the Crime Survey for England and Wales, the survey methodology changed in 2020 to 2021 from face-to-face interviews to telephone-based interviews. Further information on comparability between the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales and the Crime Survey for England and Wales can be found on the ONS website.
No historical comparisons are available for the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.
Analysis and methodology
The social capital estimates are based on cross-sectional survey data. This means that survey data were collected for a sample of the population of interest at a point in time, and then weighted to adjust the estimates for representativeness of the population. Therefore, the estimates are subject to uncertainty, which is expressed using 95% confidence intervals. The ONS guidance on uncertainty contains more information on how we measure and communicate uncertainty for survey data.
In this release, over-time changes and differences between sub-populations are only commented on if they are statistically significant using non-overlapping 95% confidence intervals. This is a conservative method of assessing change, so it is possible that significant differences that have not been identified using this method exist in the data.
All analysis has been done on unrounded figures. Some figures may not sum because of rounding.
Social capital in the devolved administrations
Several indicators presented in this release are not currently measured at the UK level. For the indicators where the UK-wide data are not available, alternative data sources may exist for the devolved nations, but differences in methodology may affect comparability of the data.
For more information about social capital data collected by the devolved administrations, see the Related links section.
Improving measures of social capital
In July 2021, the ONS published the Social capital harmonised standard, which sets out how to collect and report social capital indicators to improve comparability across different data sources. The standard provides a set of six social capital questions, which were determined to best capture the underlying concepts of the ONS social capital framework.Back to table of contents
9. Strengths and limitations
The main limitation of the presented social capital data is their coverage of geographies and time periods. We prioritised data sources that collected data between April 2020 and March 2021. Therefore, estimates are not always relevant for all of the UK, some indicators are only representative for a specific period between April 2020 and March 2021, and historical comparisons are not available for several indicators.
The main strength of this release is the sub-population breakdowns by demographic characteristics and geographies, which have been included for the first time. These additional breakdowns uncovered demographic patterns in the levels of social capital in the UK, resulting in more comprehensive and detailed insights. Still, certain suspected over-time changes and cross-group differences could not be established as the estimates for smaller sub-groups have higher levels of uncertainty because of the limited sample sizes.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 1633 455455
3. Social capital by sex
In March 2021 in the UK, comparable percentages of females and males believed that others in their neighbourhood can be trusted (62.1% and 62.0%, respectively) and that people in their local area are willing to help their neighbours (68.2% and 66.6%, respectively). However, females were more likely to be involved in social and support-based interactions in their local areas in the first year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In Great Britain, between May and August 2020, more females than males declared that they checked on neighbours who might need help at least once in the past seven days (60.8% and 49.7%, respectively). Females were also more likely to feel that they would receive support from their local community if they needed help during the COVID-19 pandemic (73.6% compared with 65.5% of males) (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Females were more likely than males to check on their neighbours and to believe that they would receive support from their local community in Great Britain in 2020
Percentage of people who checked on neighbours who might need help at least once in the past seven days, by sex, Great Britain, May to July 2020
Percentage of people who believe that other local community members would support them if they needed help during the coronavirus outbreak, by sex, Great Britain, May to August 2020
The estimates are informed by data pooled over two time periods, May to July 2020 (Waves 6 to 19 of the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey) and May to August 2020 (Waves 6 to 21 of the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey), to include the maximum number of survey waves when each question was asked.
Question wording for the “Percentage of people who believe that other local community members would support them if they needed help during the coronavirus outbreak” changed slightly for the last two weeks of data collection (Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, Waves 20 and 21) from “If I need help, other local community members would support me during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” to “I felt, other local community members would support me during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak”.
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In March 2021, 29.6% of females in the UK were providing practical help (for example, with shopping, cooking, cleaning, childcare and personal needs) to family, friends or neighbours who were not living in the same household, compared with 22.5% of males (a 7.2 percentage points difference). There was no difference between the percentage of females and males providing financial help to family, friends or neighbours outside their household.
Between 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021, there was a 3.6 percentage points increase in the percentage of females who borrow things and exchange favours with their neighbours in England, from 34.9% to 38.5%. In the same period, the percentage of females who believed that in general most people can be trusted increased in England, from 60.6% to 64.4%, while there was no change for men. More females than males also reported feeling that they belong to their neighbourhood (66.3% and 63.1%, respectively) in 2020 to 2021.
Despite females' improving neighbourhood connections, the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW) estimated that the percentage of females declaring that they felt safe walking alone in their local area after dark levelled at 69.5% in 2020 to 2021. In contrast, the percentage of males who felt safe increased by 2.8 percentage points, from 86.7% to 89.5%. This led to widening of the gender gap in feelings of safety between 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021 (please note the change in survey methodology in 2020 to 2021, which might have affected the estimates). This widening follows a period of narrowing observed in the estimates from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) between 2015 to 2016 and 2019 to 2020, when the percentage of females feeling safe increased while the percentage of males feeling safe remained stable (see Figure 3). More recent analysis of perceptions of personal safety and experiences of harassment in Great Britain is also available on the ONS website, with data for February to March 2022 available from 25 May 2022.
Figure 3: The gap between the percentage of females and males reporting feeling safe walking alone in their local area after dark increased in England and Wales between 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021
Percentage of females and males who felt “very” or “fairly” safe walking alone in their local area after dark, England and Wales, between 2015 to 2016 and 2020 to 2021
The methodology of data collection changed in 2020 to 2021, compared with the previous years. The 2020 to 2021 data were collected between May 2020 and March 2021 using the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW). The data for earlier time periods were collected in face-to-face interviews as part of the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
ONS guidance explains comparability between the TCSEW and the face-to-face CSEW.
The TCSEW estimates for 2020 to 2021 will differ from those previously published for this period because only data collected in Wave 1 interviews were presented for comparability purposes.
The CSEW estimates for 2015 to 2016 through to 2019 to 2020 will not match those previously published as those aged 16 to 17 years have been removed for comparability.
There may be some overlap of interviews between the 2019 to 2020 data and the 2020 to 2021 data.
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