Research: Britons becoming less honest

2012-01-25 22:01

London - Britons are more tolerant of extramarital affairs and drink-driving than they were a decade ago but more likely to condemn people cheating on welfare benefits, research showed on Wednesday.

The study from the University of Essex, which questioned more than 2 000 adults about whether a range of activities could ever be justified, concluded that British people are less honest than they were 10 years ago.

In 2000, seven out of 10 people said cheating on your spouse could never be justified, but this has now dropped to just over half.

Attitudes to driving while under the influence of alcohol have also softened, although more than 85% of people still believe it is never justified, down from 90% in 2000.

Meanwhile the proportion who condemn picking up money found in the street has fallen from almost 40% to fewer than 20%, while tolerance of smoking cannabis and underage sex has also significantly increased.

The one area where British people appear to have become less tolerant of misdemeanours in the last decade is cheating the benefits system, with 78% condemning the practice in 2000 but 85% doing so in 2011.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Prime Minister David Cameron's government is currently trying to push through major reforms of the welfare system.

Young people were much more likely to condone bad behaviour than older people, with the under 25s recording on average 47 points on the 'integrity scale' against an average of 50, compared to 54 points for the over 65s.

Professor Paul Whiteley, director of the Centre for the Study of Integrity at the University of Essex, northwest of London, said the results had implications for how people viewed civic duty in Britain today.

"If social capital is low, and people are suspicious and don’t work together, those communities have worse health, worse educational performance, they are less happy and they are less economically developed and entrepreneurial," he said.

"It really does have a profound effect."