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Social capital in Britain: an update and critique of Hall’s analysis

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In an influential 1999 article on social capital in Britain, Peter Hall cites Britain as a counter-example to Robert Putnam’s well-known analysis of declining social capital in the United States (Hall 1999). Hall claims that there has been no equivalent erosion of social participation in Britain, although there has been an apparent decline in social trust. To explain this apparent paradox, Hall then proposes that the decline in trust may be due to changing values, as well as government policies and changes in social integration. Finally he argues that the British case provides broader lessons about distributional issues and the importance of government policy in influencing levels of social capital. In this paper we draw in newly available data sets to update Hall's assessment of the levels of social capital in Britain and provide additional analysis. The data indicates that formal participation in voluntary organisations and political engagement are increasingly concentrated in the middle and upper middle classes. In addition levels of generalised social trust have levelled out and remain low. We suggest that there are influences which were not fully considered by Hall, such as the rise in income inequality during the 1980s and the changing nature of working life. We argue that the distributional issues are critical to considering the overall levels of social capital in Britain, and that factors such as inequality , and class divisions are important societal factors when assessing social capital on a societal basis.

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