Love thy neighbour? We don’t even know them

More than half of people in UK admit clandestine antisocial behaviour

Social Affairs Editor

Avoiding neighbours by delaying the moment you leave or enter your home sounds like something Victor Meldrew might do, but more than half of people in the UK admit to the clandestine antisocial behaviour.

The scale of isolation in many of Britain’s streets has been revealed by YouGov polling, which shows fewer than a quarter of people in the UK feel a sense of belonging in the community and one in 10 have no interaction with neighbours. It also suggests that the notion of the North being friendlier is a myth.

Those in the South-west are most likely to avoid a neighbour, with 63 per cent saying they had done it, while the Scots are much more friendly, with just 47 per cent taking steps to avoid bumping into those living next door.

Though the North is typically portrayed as friendlier than the South, the east of England came out as the friendliest region. Half of people there invite their neighbours over for a cup of tea and 60 per cent keep an eye out for each other’s homes while they are away.

The most likely reason for interaction with neighbours is the delivery of an online order, with 57 per cent of people saying they receive parcels for others.

Kate Fox, a social anthropologist and director of the Social Issues Research Centre, said: “Friendlier North is a myth. Leaving aside London, which is always a law unto itself, the differences between North and South are not significant. Southerners are just as likely to know their neighbours by name, say hello to them and stop for a friendly chat. If anything, the East is the most neighbourly region.”

Ms Fox believes the nation’s struggle to get to know their neighbours is down to social awkwardness. “If anything, we’re just too polite,” she said. “We’ve created a long list of strict, unwritten rules around privacy that hold us back, making us a bit more socially awkward than other nations. We want a sense of community, but need a bit of a nudge first, to shed our inhibitions.”

However, 65 per cent of Britons believe their neighbourhoods would be stronger if people were encouraged to get to know each other better.

Jim Maddan, chair of Neighbourhood Watch, which commissioned the poll along with Compare the Market, said: “In an area where there’s good community cohesion the opportunities for crime are diminished because people are looking out for each other. It’s also better for older people as it means they can stay in their homes longer because neighbours collect their medication or respond if they need help.” 

Older people and parents are most likely to connect. Less than a quarter of 18-34 year olds have invited their neighbours over for a cup of tea. And while almost half of people aged 55 and over would classify their neighbours as friends, less than a fifth of 18-34-year-olds would do the same.

Fox said of the generation gap: “A quarter of 18-24-year-olds have only been living in their neighbourhood for a year, compared with just 4 per cent of over-45s.”

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