UK heading for 'integrity crisis' after boom in dishonesty

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The Independent Online

People are becoming less honest amid fears that the nation is heading for an "integrity crisis". Lying, having an affair, driving while drunk, having underage sex and buying stolen goods are all more acceptable than they were a decade ago.

The portrait of a nation increasingly relaxed about "low-level dishonesty" emerges in a major study seen by i.

Carried out by the University of Essex, which will today launch Britain's first Centre for the Study of Integrity, it suggests that the "integrity problem" is likely to get worse because young people are more tolerant of dishonest behaviour than the older generation.

The Essex University study found that in 2000, 70 per cent of people believed an extramarital affair could never be justified; today, the proportion is about 50 per cent. The proportion of people who say picking up money found in the street is never justified fell from 40 per cent to 20 per cent.Lying and breaking the speed limit have also become an accepted part of life.

According to the Essex study, women have slightly more integrity than men. There appears to be little variation in honesty according to social class, education or income. But there is a significant age factor: younger people are far more likely to tolerate dishonesty. Only 33 per cent of under-25s thinks lying on a job application is never justified, compared with 41 per cent of middle-aged people and 55 per cent of those over 65.

"There are reasons to be pessimistic about this, since people tend to acquire their basic political beliefs in adolescence and these do not change very much as they grow older," the report says. Comparing the latest findings with similar research in 2000, Professor Whiteley says: "It is apparent that large changes have occurred in sexual mores, attitudes to keeping money found in the street, and to smoking cannabis. These activities are much more sanctioned than they were 11 years ago."

There have been smaller but significant changes in attitudes towards failing to report damage to a parked car, buying stolen goods and drink-driving, which earn less disapproval than they did in 2000.