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Social capital

Social capital describes the links that bind and connect people within and between communities. The resources available through organisations, community structures and networks create these links. These resources include information, ideas, social norms, emotional support, goodwill, trust, civic participation and cooperation.1  Such resources are not the personal assets of individuals but exist in networks of relationships. By capitalising these collective contributions, communities can get things done and value their collective achievement.

Social capital provides a source of resilience; a buffer against risks of poor health. It provides support which is critical to physical and mental well-being, through the networks that help people find work, learn and develop skills and cope with economic and social difficulties. The extent of people’s participation in their communities and the added control over their lives that this brings has the potential to contribute to their well-being and, as a result, to other outcomes.

Social capital comprises:

  • Participation in social networks
  • Trust between individuals and groups
  • Reciprocity – doing things for each other
  • Influence over decisions that affect the community

By choosing to invest differently and ensuring that policies are both owned by those most affected and are shaped by their experiences, social capital can be built at a local level to bring about healthier and more sustainable communities in Lancashire.

Indicators of social capital include:

  • Feelings of belonging to the neighbourhood
  • Civic participation
  • Participation in regular volunteering
  • Perceptions that people treat one another with respect and consideration
  • People aged over 65 who are satisfied with both their home and their neighbourhood

The North West Regional Wellbeing Survey [2012/13] found that people’s health and wellbeing and resilience greatly increase when they had access to good social and community networks.2 In addition, recent research demonstrates that programmes that improve people’s social relationships are at least as effective in increasing life expectancy as smoking cessation and weight management programmes.3

Opportunities to strengthen social capital include:

  • Public services and VCFS providing opportunities for people to influence the services they receive
  • Local government creating physical conditions to enable people to come together through better design of the environment
  • Public and VCFS promoting volunteering and asset based community development


Community assets and building them into the JSNA

Community assets (the talents, gifts and capacity within communities) can make a significant contribution to social capital. Partners in Lancashire have been working to identify the assets within some local communities. The Lancashire JSNA highlights needs within the county but has been developed over 2013/14 to also include an overview of community assets.

Measuring social capital:

  • Participation, social engagement, commitment
  • Control, self-efficacy
  • Perception of community level structures or characteristics
  • Social interaction, social networks, social support
  • Trust, reciprocity, social cohesion

Social networks and social support:

  • Frequency of seeing/speaking to relatives/friends/neighbours
  • Extent of virtual networks and frequency of contact
  • Number of close friends/relatives who live nearby
  • Exchange of help
  • Perceived control and satisfaction with life

Social participation:

  • Number of cultural, leisure, social groups belonged to and frequency and intensity of involvement
  • Volunteering, frequency and intensity of involvement
  • Religious activity
  • Civic participation
  • Perceptions of ability to influence events
  • How well informed about local/national affairs
  • Contact with public officials or political representatives
  • Involvement with local action groups
  • Propensity to vote

Reciprocity and trust:

  • Trust in other people who are like you
  • Trust in other people who are not like you
  • Confidence in institutions at different levels
  • Doing favours and vice versa
  • Perception of shared values

Views of the local area:

  • Views on physical environment
  • Facilities in the area
  • Enjoyment of living in the area
  • Fear of crime

1 Putnam, R. D. (1993) Making Democracy Work. Civic traditions in modern Italy, Princeton University Press
2 Jones et al (2013) North West Mental Wellbeing Survey 2012/13, Liverpool, Centre for Public Health
3 Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316