5.1 Social capital has become a widely accepted concept that is seen as important in achieving key policy objectives by many national and international organisations (Cote and Healy, 2001; World Bank, 2011). High levels of social capital are believed to be beneficial because they can have a positive effect on physical and mental wellbeing and can lead to a sense of individual and community empowerment. In turn, the positive effects of high levels of social capital, such as improved wellbeing, improved public services and reduced reoffending, help to build levels of social capital, thus creating a cyclical relationship between social capital levels and beneficial outcomes.
5.2 SSA 2015 gathered data on three aspects of social capital: social networks, civic participation and co-production. Overall, people in Scotland expressed positive views about all three dimensions of social capital. The majority feel that they belong to their local area, have strong personal social networks, feel that improvements are possible in their local area and believe that people should be involved in the design and delivery of local public services.
5.3 Two of the measures included in SSA 2015 have been asked in previous surveys and showed changes over time. First, the proportion who agreed that 'there are people in this area I could turn to for advice and support' had reduced by thirteen percentage points between 2006 and 2009 but has been steadily increasing since. In 2015, over three-quarters agreed with the statement.
5.4 SSA has measured levels of civic participation in Scotland since 2004. Since 2009, the proportion that has done any of the (listed) activities in the last few years had increased from 55% to 69% in 2015. This increase in activity levels is mostly seen in relation to more 'passive' forms of participation, that is signing petitions (including online petitions) and giving money to a campaign or organisation, rather than more 'active' forms of participation such as attending public meetings or contacting elected officials.
5.5 People who engaged in civic participation were more likely to have high levels of social capital in relation to social networks. For example, they were more likely to feel that they belonged to their local area, to meet socially with people more often and to agree that they had people in their local area to turn to for advice and support.
5.6 Analysis of previous SSA data on social capital suggested that the key factors associated with having either high or low levels of social capital were related to place, living in an urban or rural area and level of deprivation, as well as education. However, findings from SSA 2015 suggest that place was less important. Trust is a core element of social capital but being more trusting is also associated with building relationships which sit at the heart of the concept of social capital. It is, therefore, unsurprising to find an association between believing that people can be trusted and having higher levels of social capital. However, in 2015, how much people trusted others was the factor that was shown to be related most often to the different dimensions of social capital. Those who said that 'most people can be trusted' were more likely to have high levels of social capital in relation to eight of the eleven measures included in the report. These measures covered all dimensions of social capital: social networks, civic participation, volunteering, feelings of belonging to your local area, believing that things can be improved in your local area and co-production.
5.7 Place was still a factor in relation to some measures, with differences in attitudes between those in rural and urban areas and between people living in the most deprived and least deprived quintiles. People living in the most deprived quintile in Scotland were less likely to have registered what they thought about an issue or to have volunteered to help improve their local area. They are, however, more likely than those living in the least deprived quintile to feel that people should be involved in making decisions about how money should be spent on local public services. People in rural areas were more likely to say they had people to turn to for advice and support, to believe that people in their local area are able to improve things around here if they want to and to have volunteered to improve their local area. People in urban areas, however, were more likely to meet socially more often.
5.8 The increased levels of civic participation show that people in Scotland are becoming more willing to engage with government and community organisations to register what they think about issues that are important to them. However, there is also evidence that those living in deprived areas are less likely to engage in civic participation activities. It is therefore important to understand the dynamics of participation that exist in communities and support people living in deprived areas to become more involved in activities and enable them to put their views across and be involved in local decision making processes. Feeling that people can be trusted was also shown to be associated with high levels of social capital suggesting that community-based projects that support the involvement of and collaboration between local people in decision making could support the development of trust and increase levels of social capital in local areas.
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