Editorial: Reasons to be cheerful, part six

Helping others for no reward is a great part of the quality of life for many in Britain

Share
Related Topics

Now for the good news. Our Happy List, which we publish today, celebrates the qualities in people that the news tends to overlook. There is a media bias in favour of the extremes of human behaviour, and a bias within that bias towards reporting the unhappy, the unkind and the selfish. Our Happy List started six years ago as an antidote to a list published by a rival newspaper that seemed to glorify the accumulation of money. We were not opposed to success; merely seeking to widen its definition, in which, we think, we caught a mood.

David Cameron acknowledged as much with his advocacy of the "Big Society". He meant well, and we supported what he was trying to do. His slogan was a mistake, however, not because no one knew what it meant but because it seemed to be trying to make voluntary action a party political question. To have a chapter of the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 election entitled "Build the Big Society" looked as if Mr Cameron were trying to claim philanthropy as a Tory virtue. Worse, once in government, the Prime Minister was widely seen as using the Big Society as a cover for cuts in public spending. When that phase of indignation had subsided, all that seemed to be left of the idea was that it was a symbol of Mr Cameron's blurry sense of purpose.

Yet he was on to something. Although the free market is the most efficient way to allocate resources, and competition is the best spur to the innovation that makes our prosperity possible, it is not the source of deeper fulfilment. Helping others for no reward other than the satisfaction of doing so is a great part of the quality of life for most people in Britain. As we report today, figures published by the Cabinet Office suggest that 72 per cent of people have volunteered over the previous year, defined as "giving unpaid help to people who are not relatives".

The same survey finds that social cohesion on other indicators has increased in the past 10 years: 78 per cent of people say that they feel they belong to their neighbourhood, up from 70 per cent; and 87 per cent say that "people from different backgrounds get on well together" in their local area, up from 80 per cent in 2003.

That makes the point about the non-partisan nature of altruism. Those increases have been enabled by the enlightened policies of the Labour government; and it is encouraging that the coalition is continuing them.

The Independent on Sunday is encouraged, too, that Mr Cameron intends to use the G8 summit which he is hosting in Enniskillen in June to promote the idea of "social impact bonds", a way of attracting funds for charities and social enterprises if they can deliver better results than traditional public services.

Mr Cameron's biggest mistake with the Big Society was perhaps to give it a name at all. Like patriotism or discretion, advertising altruism can be tasteless and self-defeating.

Decency by stealth has long been the British way, and long may it continue. But, every once in a while, let us blow our collective trumpet. Ours is a wonderful nation, in which the vast majority of people are generous and kind. Our Happy List aims to celebrate the exceptional contribution made by just 100 people, but they are exceptional only in degree, not in nature: they are representative of millions. We are entitled to take more pride in ourselves.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Intruder Alarm Trainee Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This friendly and fast growing security compan...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
EastEnders needs to review its take on Cockney life  

Ending the watershed is crossing the line of our TV culture

Jane Merrick
Kurds celebrate as they drive along a street in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, on January 26, 2015  

Isis has finally been defeated in Kobani — but what happens next?

Ranj Alaaldin
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore