Britons are becoming less honest and their trust in government and business leaders has fallen to a new low amid fears of an "integrity crisis".
Lying, having an affair, driving while drunk, having underage sex and buying stolen goods are all more acceptable than they were a decade ago. But people are less tolerant of benefit fraud.
A major study by the University of Essex, which will today launch Britain's first Centre for the Study of Integrity, suggests that the "integrity problem" is likely to get worse because young people are more tolerant of dishonest behaviour than the older generation. The centre will look at issues arising from recent scandals such as phone hacking, MPs' expenses and the banking crisis.
A separate "trust barometer", published by the PR company Edelman, shows that trust levels in MPs slumped to 4 per cent after last year's riots. People also lost confidence in the young and the police. Only 29 per cent of people believe the Government is doing the right thing and 38 per cent trust businesses.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
The Essex University study found that in 2000, 70 per cent of people believed an extramarital affair could never be justified; today, the proportion is about 50 per cent. The proportion of people who say picking up money found in the street is never justified fell from 40 per cent to 20 per cent.
Lying and breaking the speed limit have also become acceptable. Fabricating a job application and having an affair are less acceptable, but many people do not rule them out.
According to the Essex study, women have slightly more integrity than men. There appears to be little variation in honesty according to social class, education or income.
But younger people are far more likely to tolerate dishonesty. Only 33 per cent of under-25s think lying on a job application is never justified, compared with 55 per cent of over-65s.
The only transgression of which people are less tolerant is cheating on benefit claims. The proportion condemning the practice has risen from 78 per cent to 85 per cent.