Society is more united than it was before the pandemic, according to research, which cautions that the UK is ‘at a crossroads’
Hugs are banned, pubs closed, even church congregations prohibited. Yet despite having to keep physically apart for much of the past year, the UK has grown closer together during the pandemic.
That’s according to a report published this week by the Together coalition, which was founded to foster a more connected society. Over the last year, it asked nearly 160,000 UK residents about what divides and unites society: half of those surveyed reported feeling society was more united than before the pandemic, with 27 per cent disagreeing.
Perhaps the greatest testament to increased social cohesion, however, was the uptick in volunteering. When extrapolated to the entire UK population, the Together report suggested 12.4 million adults have volunteered during the pandemic, of which 4.6 million were first timers.
“Despite the immense challenges of this pandemic, people have responded by pulling together, not apart. That is quite remarkable, given how divided our society looked as Britain entered 2020,” said bishop Nick Baines, chair of the Together trustees. “Faced with this adversity, we could have become more divided and looked for others to blame. Yet this new research finds that people feel a stronger sense of connection to their neighbours and community.”
Together’s findings echo those of another study, published last year, by the thinktank More in Common. That report concluded that while a small minority of political extremists stoked the culture wars in the UK, most people had formed broad consensuses around supposedly divisive issues such as the climate crisis, and racial and gender equality.
The study revealed that the ‘them v us’ narrative playing out in newspapers and on social media was largely inaccurate and that the fault lines in society were not as deep as we might believe.
However, both studies acknowledged that there were divisions and warned they had potential to widen post pandemic. Together highlighted economic inequality, digital exclusion and flexible working for some professions, but not others, as cause for concern.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who wrote the foreward to the Together report, said the UK was “at a crossroads”.
“We can allow our differences and divides to harden and grow wider as we struggle to recover from the Covid- 19 crisis. Or we can seek to harness the newfound community spirit that did emerge in 2020, to help build a society that is kinder and more connected,” he said. “It is my conviction, and that of the Together coalition, that we can and will choose the latter path.”
Main image: A boarded up Old Compton Street, London. Kevin Grieve
50 %Say the crisis has united us
73 %Want society to be more connected in future
12.4 mVolunteered during the crisis
4.6 mVolunteered for first time during the crisis