Religious groups' membership second only to sport

20 February 2015

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RELIGIOUS and church groups are second only to sports clubs as the most popular type of organisation to belong to, a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests.

The report Measuring National Well-being found that half of the population are members of organisations, and, of them, one in five (21 per cent) was part of a religious or church group. Sports clubs were the most common: 31 per cent of those who were in groups were part of one.

The ONS report sought to analyse the UK's "social capital", which it described as the "glue that holds societies together, and without which there can be no economic growth or human well-being". It found that, besides belonging to organisations, many people in the UK also volunteered. Nineteen per cent had given unpaid help at charities and other groups at least once in the past 12 months. The same proportion of the population said that they had looked after, or supported, someone who was sick, elderly, or disabled.

Just under a fifth (18 per cent) of people had been involved in at least one "social-action project" in their area in the past year. More than two-thirds of the population had given money to charity in the past year (67 per cent).

The ONS found, however, that there had been a "significant decrease" in the proportion of people who felt that they could influence decisions in their community since 2011; and one in ten reported feeling lonely "all, most, or more than half of the time". One third said that they wished they could spend more time with their family and have more social contact.

Five per cent said that they did not have a close friend, although most people (68 per cent) reported having between two and six.

Analysis of the statistics by the ONS suggests that the fewer close friends people have, the more they say they are dissatisfied with their life.

Family connections appear to be strong: when respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with their family life on a scale up to ten, the average response was 8.2. A majority of parents (63 per cent) gave practical or financial help to children who no longer lived with them, the most common support coming in the form of financial assistance, and help with caring for grandchildren.

Academic research quoted in Measuring National Well-being suggests that people with stronger social networks and reliable social support have better physical and mental health than those who are more isolated and lonely.

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