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Sharing IS Dead

03/05/2013 13:17 BST | Updated 20/04/2017 11:33 BST

Listen to this government's catchphrases, and you'd think we are a nation of sharers, happily mucking in for one another for the common good.

"We're all in this together," proclaims George Osborne, as he merrily slashes billions from people's benefits.

Then there's the Big Society, which conjures up images of people giving up their back gardens for the local community, holding bring-and-buy sales and volunteering as a police officer in their spare time.

Except that we're nothing like that.

If you don't believe me, pop onto the London Underground (your local public transport network will do, but London is in a class of its own). Watch people jostling through the barriers, barging each other out the way in the queue, then glaring at their mobile phones so they don't catch the eye of the one-legged pregnant woman standing up next to their seat.

We're a selfish bunch, and it's only getting worse. Ask yourself when you last shared something. Facebook doesn't count. Be honest, it was last time you ate out, when you shared the bill - and that was only so you could avoid sharing your money.

Sure, there are exceptions, like Toby Ord, who gives a third of his salary to charity. But one person doesn't count. And yes, David Beckham's donating his wages from Paris St Germain to needy children. Sure, we'd all share stuff if we were that rich, right?

In this era of X Factor-inspired obsession with individuality, children are brought up to stand up, show off and fight their way to the top. And while most of us don't make it to the top, wherever that is, we carry on being selfish, taking more food and buying more clothes than we'll ever need.

It's a topical time to be talking about selfishness, because for Margaret Thatcher's critics that was exactly what the recently-deceased Prime Minister stood for.

If they're right, the Iron Lady's work is just about done, 21 years after she left office.

Tale the British Social Attitudes survey which each year asks over 3,000 people about life in Britain. It's the most authoritative study of its type, and has been running for 30 years.

Recent years' findings reinforce the sad truth that we are no longer a nation of sharers, even if we don't like to admit it.

So while almost three quarters of us say there's too much inequality, only 34% say the government should redistribute more to solve it.

We certainly don't want to share the areas we live in. Housing crisis or no housing crisis, 45% of us oppose any kind of new development nearby, compared to 30% who would be in favour.

The percentage who think unemployment benefits are too high leapt from 37% in 2000 to 53% in 2010.

How about the world itself, surely we'll share that with generations to come? Not if we have to pay for it. Only just over a quarter would be prepared to stump up "much higher taxes" to protect the environment. Ten years earlier, that figure was 43%.

We're no less selfish in our attitudes towards welfare or foreign aid, opinion polls show.

Don't take it from me, take it from the authors of the survey, who said last year that "levels of altruism are falling in these straitened times.

"People are hostile to housebuilding in their neighbourhoods, less likely to make personal sacrifices to protect the environment and increasingly resistant to paying more for hospitals and schools."

It certainly doesn't bode well for the Big Society when even the Big Issue is losing sales.

Rather than being all in it together, 'charity begins at home' would be a better motto for this age - because there's not much sharing going on these days.