Back to top

Scouts calls for action to end UK’s ‘crisis of empathy’

7 Nov 2018

A new YouGov poll has found that the majority of British adults (51%) who expressed a view believe there is less empathy in UK society now than just 12 months ago. The startling statistic is in line with global trends, the growth of social media and what’s been dubbed ‘generation me’.

We find this emerging crisis of empathy unacceptable — it is damaging society and reducing the life chances of young people — and Chief Scout Bear Grylls has called for urgent action to provide more opportunities for young people to develop this essential skill. However, a huge 92% of the public who expressed a view agree that Scouts do this effectively, stating that they believe we are helping young people develop this critical skill for life through volunteering and community projects.

The new YouGov research that uncovered the size of the UK’s crisis of empathy polled over 2,000 British adults. Our Chief Scout has called urgently for more volunteers to help young people develop this crucial skill and to prevent the crisis deepening.

Bear Grylls said:
‘Today, in a world that sometimes feels fractured and insular, empathy and kindness are more important than ever. That’s why it’s important that we do something about this challenge. If the trend continues, we risk more division in our communities and increased alienation among young people. New research has shown that more than half of British adults say there is less empathy in UK society today than a year ago. When society is polarised, we need to work twice as hard to understand each other and find ways of working together. I believe young people have a right to develop key skills such as empathy and kindness and we urgently need more adult volunteers to help us do this.’

There is growing awareness of just how vital empathy is both socially and professionally. The 92% of British adults who said they believe that the Scouts help young people to develop this skill said we do so through our volunteering and community projects. One such example is how we give the UK’s 460,000 Scouts the opportunity to develop their powers of empathy while working towards their Community Impact Badge, mixing with people from different backgrounds. As a result, there are now over 22,000 Scout Dementia Friends across the UK. The role involves the Scouts learning about dementia, partnering with people affected and giving their time and energy to help their local community become more dementia friendly.

We pride ourselves in building empathy to cross boundaries within communities, and help young people develop skills to succeed in life. We deeply value this particular skill and hope others will back our call to improve levels of empathy in society.

Scouts prepares more than 460,000 young people with the skills they need to succeed in life. Click here to get involved today.


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2087 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th — 14th September 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

5 Scout badges that help develop empathy skills

From transformative community impact projects to lifesaving skills and writing exercises which encourage us to step into another’s shoes, here are five Scout Badges and Awards which help young people put empathy into practice.

Global Issues Activity Badge

This badge introduces young people to a number of international issues and asks them to step into the shoes of someone directly affected, whether that person is an underpaid garment worker producing cheap clothes for the UK market, or a fellow Scout dealing with a natural disaster.

2. Lifesaver Activity Badge

Dealing with a dangerous or life-threatening situation requires technical knowledge and emotional strength — such as problem solving at speed and remaining calm under pressure. It also requires the ability to see things from the perspective of the person who needs your help. Lifesaver and First Aid badges build these skills, with tangible real-life results. Just look at the story of the Cub Scouts who rushed to their Grandmother’s aid and ultimately saved her life.

3. Naturalist Activity Badge

As well as encouraging young people to marvel at the diverse wildlife and plants that surround them, this badge looks at the wider context of ecology and natural resource management, encouraging young people to consider how human activities can affect the wildlife we so cherish.

4. World Challenge Award

This award produces the skills young people need to become active citizens of their communities. At each stage of completing the award, Scouts find out more about how the world works and how they can shape it more positively and empathetically, whether they’re investigating mainstream views around the issue of disability or gender in different societies, volunteering with their local services, or taking part in an activity which explores values and beliefs.

5. Writer Activity Badge

When we write stories, we have to consider the life experiences and choices of our character, from their perspective, and then convey that back to our readers. Picking up a pen is therefore one of the fastest routes to becoming more empathetic, and the Writer Activity Badge is the perfect catalyst for young people to explore their thoughts and feelings while honing their craft.