We can't live without trust: it's official. Bloc magazine has been out there on the streets talking to ordinary people discovering the hard truth about trust. The good news: 80.3% of all those we asked agreed with the statement, 'We can't live without trust'. The bad news: only 29% think that society is as 'trustworthy' as it used to be.

Take a look at the news: this is a society in which you can be murdered with a samurai sword for being an MP's personal assistant, in which you can have your healthy kidney removed by mistake in a 'routine' operation, or where you can step out of your house in the morning only for your foot to land in a large pool of blood--as happened to a friend of mine in Oxfordlast week.

Okay, it's not a hard fact that society is less trustworthy than before, but it can certainly seem that way if we believe the news and most of the 51 random people we interviewed on Friday. And no, it's not just old wives' tales: the average age of our subjects was 31 and well over half were men.

Trust has become a popular word. It was an NHS Trust that removed the wrong kidney recently. It is Trust Funds that promise to make your money grow, unless the tycoon who runs them absconds.

Can trust be trusted any more? No, it can't, as so many modern trends seem to testify. Take a look at the frenetic building of gated high-walled property developments, the increasing reliance on litigation to solve our problems, the rejection of humans in favour of pets, and the tendency towards solitary living.

But let us turn to our survey, which asked about a wide range of issues and did not just highlight the distrust, but dug out the mine of trust that is in us all. It revealed that 40% of people would 'tend not to trust' or would 'never trust' their next door neighbour and only 11% said they had åabsolute trust' in them. 55% of subjects said they do not trust the information people give them face-to-face; there was an overwhelming preference for information provided by some sectors of the media. The
BBC and quality newspapers came top. An almost alarming 35% saying they had 'absolute trust' in the BBC (and most of the rest 'tended' to trust them), while 25% absolutely trust the information provided by quality newspapers. But word-of-mouth was preferred above tabloid newspapers, which a dramatic 70.5% said they do not trust. The tabloids were outdone only by Conservative politicians, who are trusted by less than 20%.

The internet scored well, beating next door neighbours, politicians and local radio hands down. The overwhelming faith in the media is worrying. Surely they, more than anything, are responsible for perpetuating our paranoia and fear of the next man, by bringing the worst brutalities into our homes in the name of 'truth'.

The most trusted people in society, according to our survey, are family members, whom 74.5% said they would trust absolutely, with another 16% saying they would tend to trust them.

Surprisingly perhaps, given recent events, the police came second, with teachers in third and 'ministers of religion' in fourth place. Lawyers and politicians came bottom, surprise surprise. Labour politicians scored 68% distrust, rather better than Tories.

Citizens were asked to rank their trust for eight different brands and companies. British companies Boots and Marks and Spencers came second and third, but BT was almost as unpopular as Exxon (fame of the biggest ever oil disaster), which came bottom. 47% don't trust British Telecom, and only 6% give it their wholehearted approval. There is an irony here, since BT is hoping to cash in on its reputation for trustworthiness by selling BT 'seals of approval' for websites. Sony is the most trusted company, with 92% responding in favour. Hyundai, Electrolux and Ciba-Geigy were ranked 4, 5 and 6 respectively.

Asked whether they trusted British brands and companies more than foreign ones, the consensus was a fairly resounding 'no'. Another question found that Europe is marginally more trustworthy than America, though many were 'not sure'.

Politicians are less trustworthy than before, according to the majority, but there is ambivalence about whether the police are more or less trustworthy than in the past. However, there were mutterings of, 'They're just as bad as they were'. Throughout the survey, with some exceptions, there was a trend to accord trust to large institutions and organisations, as against individuals.

Word of mouth and the next-door neighbour are out, the BBC and Sony are in. But there is clear discrimination between the institutions, with some scoring very badly, like oil companies, British Telecom and politicians.

Perhaps we can learn from the past. The origin of the word 'trust' is the Old Norse word 'traust', which is related to the Old English word 'treowe', meaning 'faithful'. There is a message here: people are unlikely ever to be trusted unless we put our faith in them first.