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January 25, 2017

Disconnected communities

The Eden Project is a fascinating visit for anyone making a trip to Cornwall. For some years now the reach of the Eden Project and its commitment to help communities become more connected and resilient has extended far beyond the boundaries of Cornwall. 100’s of Big Lunches now happen across Scotland each year bringing neighbours together and building new local connections. Community connectedness is a big theme for Eden – they’ve just published some research highlighting the financial cost of being a disconnected community.


The Eden Project

To see the whole of the Executive Summary of the report The Cost of Disconnected Communities

·         Disconnected communities could be costing society a potential welfare improvement valued at £32 billion and about £12 billion of this could be realised as a net economic gain (a boost to GDP) through improved productivity.

·         The welfare improvement that could be realised includes our estimate of the implicit value of neighbourliness that could be gained through better connected communities. This is based on a £15 billion valuation of the resources shared and help provided between neighbours today and a £29 billion valuation of the resources that could be shared if neighbourliness (catalysed by things such as involvement in community initiatives like The Big Lunch) was more widespread. The difference between the two (the £14 billion) featured in Table E1 is equated with the cost of disconnected communities.

·         We estimate that, based on our assumptions, involvement in community activities and initiatives like The Big Lunch and Big Lunch Extras is currently delivering reduction in the demands on the health services that can be valued at £2.7 billion. This has the potential to rise to an estimated £7.9 billion if there is more widespread involvement in community initiatives like the Big Lunch and Big Lunch Extras. The £5 billion difference between the two can be interpreted as an indicative estimate of the burden on the health service that probably arises as a result of the lack of more widespread involvement in the community – and thus as part of the cost of disconnected communities.

·         According to evidence revealed through our desk research, the increased sense of community that arises from greater social cohesion can be associated with a 1% reduction in crime. See Wedlock (2006). If community activities and initiatives like The Big Lunch and Big Lunch Extras, and others like Neighbourhood Watch schemes, can be associated with greater social cohesion and increases in this sense of community, this relationship can be translated into the potential resource value of the reduction in the demands on policing services. Using the Home Office’s economic cost of crime, this figure would amount to £205 million.

·         A detailed study by Oswald (2009) estimated that happiness could be associated with a 12% rise in productivity. We estimate that the productivity benefits associated with the happiness improvements that might be associated with current levels of community involvement at £6 billion. This is put forward as an indicative value of the productivity benefits to employers as a result of their employees being more community engaged. This could well be a net economic gain, in the form of a boost to GDP, arising from the levels of happiness being derived as a result of current level of engagement with community activities and initiatives.

·          Extrapolating to a scenario in which all of those not currently engaged become engaged in their communities, the estimated productivity boost that could be realised rises to £18 billion. Again, the difference between these estimates is interpreted as the cost of disconnected communities, which we estimate at £12 billion. This is a productivity boost, and thus a net macroeconomic gain that could be realised through better connected communities.

·         Another £0.4 billion of productivity benefit could be realised through – The health and lifestyle improvements that can be associated with involvement in community activities and initiatives like The Big Lunch and Big Lunch Extras. – The lower stress and higher self-esteem that can likewise be associated with community involvement.


·         We find that the cost of disconnected communities can be attributed to the UK nations in the following way: England at £27 billion, Wales at close to £3 billion, Scotland at £0.7 billion (£700 million) and Northern Ireland at almost £2 billion.