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

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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.  

The Only Way is Ethics: The birth of a royal baby will not top the news for long

Will Gore
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk