According to the consumer national trust survey 2011, our children will have a less brighter future than we had.
By Salem Samhoud
Consumer trust is one of the most important indicators for the economy. Figures from the national consumer trust survey, which &samhoud officially presented on Thursday 17 November 2011, show that the Dutch ‘high trust society’ is under a lot of pressure. This is bad news and will have far-reaching consequences for both our economy and society. This is illustrated by the fact that people in the Netherlands see a far bleaker future for their children (49%) than for themselves (58%) for the very first time in many years. This is something that is at odds with our nature, our attitude to life, our social policies and the very essence of our society – everything has always been geared towards offering our children a better future.
Have we – without knowing – been standing at the top of ‘Mount Prosperity’ in recent years and will everything be downhill from now on? According to the national consumer trust survey, the vast majority of Dutch people believe that this is the case. Dutch people see bleak years ahead and do not have any idea who will solve the crisis in our country. At an international level, we are not putting our money on the Netherlands but on Germany. Our neighbouring country enjoys more trust than our own country does.
The Netherlands lacks a clear vision and strong leadership. This is something that we really need to strive hard to achieve at this stage. The business sector in particular must take up the challenge to become the linchpin for our country – with more freedom for entrepreneurship, but at the same time more responsibility for society. A better balance must be achieved between profit and social welfare.
The national consumer confidence survey
Since 2008, &samhoud has collaborated with Blauw research agency to carry out the national trust survey, which involves 1,240 respondents every year. The trend since 2008 (can you still remember when the crisis actually started? It seems like such a long time ago now) has been a strong drop in trust.
Confidence falls as the distance between people grows
Dutch people have great self-trust with 91% of respondents feeling happy with themselves. This indicates that all is well with the individual. However, the situation changes as soon as other people are involved. People who are close to the individual manage to achieve a score that is just about sufficient: 55%. We are on our guard against colleagues. They score 58% and just 50% of Dutch people trust their employers. These are shocking figures: more than half the respondents do not trust their colleagues and two-thirds of Dutch people do not trust their employers. The figures show that the working population of the Netherlands is characterised by mistrust.A possible explanation for this could be the job uncertainty currently being experienced by employees and the fact that they are following developments in the economy and in Europe with a lot of suspicion. Leading lights in the business sector enjoy even less trust. Trust in them is a meagre 13%. However, politicians are at the bottom of the pile: just 11% have trust in politicians.
Obviously, the dramatic percentages reproduced in the listing above are striking. However, another salient detail is the fact that the individual stands out at such a high level. Although the old saying ‘evil doers are evil dreaders’ clearly does not apply, it is certainly worthwhile to take heed of it once more. Trust in the business sector is low, but still significantly higher than in society and politicians.
Trust in the economy continues to fall and is becoming serious
The fact that consumer trust in the economy continues to fall is starting to become serious. Trust in the economy has fallen by an annual average of 14% since 2008. Trust in the economy in the Netherlands was still 41% in 2008, but then fell strongly and stood at 24% in October 2011. Only one in four Dutch people still have trust in our country’s economy. Trust in the global economy and the European economy was lower throughout the period indicated anyway, but improved in 2009. The global economy was still able to count on 28% trust in 2008, but has now fallen again to 12%. The European economy already enjoyed the lowest level of consumer trust back in 2008 (19%) and fell again, to 12%, in 2011.
For a country like the Netherlands, which largely relies on trade with other countries, these trust percentages are dramatic. A salient ‘detail’ is that, in reality, the economies in continents like South America, Asia and Africa are actually growing. Roles would seem to be reversing – just consider the exploratory discussions Europe is having with countries like Brazil and China in relation to financial support for the EU.
Trust in financial organisations continues to fall despite the recovery of the Dutch Central Bank in 2011
Although the governmental organisations responsible for the financial situation and trade in our country have been losing up to 23% of consumer trust each year, this situation is stabilising in 2011. This development cannot be attributed to the current government, which has seen trust in it dip to a percentage of 20% in a period of just one year. Although the Minister of Finance, Jan Kees de Jager, and the Ministry of Finance have been successful in reversing this trend slightly, both fail to achieve a score of 25% in the trust survey. However, the most striking organisation is the Dutch Central Bank (the DNB). After taking a nose dive between 2008 and 2010, during which time trust fell from 60% to 25%, the DNB is showing a positive trend in 2011. Completely contrary to developments, trust in the DNB has increased from 25% to 30% in the last year.
If we take a very positive view on the above, it can be concluded that the relative stability that both the DNB and the Ministry of Finance and Minister Jan Kees de Jager are creating is proving to be successful. The negative trend has become less serious.
Less than half of consumers believe that the credit crisis will be over within five years
In 2010, 14% of Dutch people believed that the credit crisis was over. Many of these optimists have now, to a great extent, been forced to back down. However, in October 2011, 5% still believe that the credit crisis is over. Evidently, the European financial turmoil prompted by developments in Portugal, Ireland and recently Greece and Italy too (France and Spain are not stable either) has not caused this small group to become more sombre.
In 2011, 12% of respondents believe that we will emerge from the crisis within a year, while 46% believe that this will happen within five years. This means that more than half the Dutch population believe that the next five years will be bleak.
Consumers have more trust in the resolution of the crisis by Germany than by the Netherlands
One striking outcome from the national consumer trust survey is that Dutch people have more confidence in Germany than in the Netherlands where the resolution of the crisis is concerned. 28% percent have trust in Germany and 22% in the Netherlands. Realism is winning over emotion where this subject is concerned: the Netherlands is not an economic superpower, whereas Germany is, which it has managed to do despite being faced with the prospect of forging a new economic entity from the former Western Germany and the former Eastern Germany just over 20 years ago. The wall only fell in 1989.
The fact that a mere 5% of Dutch people have trust in China as the country that will resolve the crisis makes it clear that we are looking for a solution close to home. Only 3% of respondents have trust in the US as the country that will resolve the crisis. Evidently, the Obama effect is outweighed by the reality of the US’ towering debts.
1% believes that Greece will resolve the crisis and 0.3% are confident that Italy will show us the way.
Dutch people are expecting to become unemployed
Work and unemployment are important themes for consumers. But not just for them, as the economy benefits from trust amongst employees too. Only 28% have trust in the Dutch employment market. Just 49% are confident that they will still have work in five years’ time and 58% are convinced that they will still have work in a year’s time. As such, more than half the Dutch population feel uncertain about their jobs. This is a very high figure. One of the ensuing side effects is a situation where employees will manifest their lack of trust on the work floor, which is detrimental to business operations as it creates a vicious circle of disappointing business performance, cutbacks, redundancies and increasing mistrust in the labour market.
Consumers are rigorously adjusting their spending patterns
Because of the financial crisis, 51% of consumers are concerned about their current financial situation and 59% are concerned about their future financial situation. An increasing number of consumers are suffering financially from the credit crisis. In 2008, 21% indicated that their means had fallen. This figure is 39% in 2011, which is almost double the percentage for 2008. Added to this, increasing numbers of people are gaining less access to financial products. This was 9% of Dutch people in 2008; in 2011, this figure has increased to 26%.
70% of the Dutch population say they pay more attention to how much money they are spending. Twenty-six percent are considering changing the products they currently have with a bank or insurer and 9% are thinking about switching to a different insurer. Our expectation is that this trend will only increase, which will place additional pressure on financial service providers in particular.
The Dutch have more trust in the resolution of the crisis by the business sector than by politicians
In general, we can conclude that it is unclear to Dutch people who will be able to resolve the crisis. Most have trust in the business sector. 27% of respondents have trust that the business sector will find the way out of the crisis. This is still much higher than the percentage enjoyed by nongovernmental organisations, which have 16% trust, and politicians, who are forced to settle with 12% of consumer trust.
Trust in politicians has fallen dramatically in recent years. On the one hand, it would seem that the changed mores in The Hague are not promoting trust, while, on the other hand, the respondents would seem to recognise that our politicians are powerless to tackle the wave of financial setbacks taking place in the EU. This does not alter the fact that domestic policy, based on a clear vision and strong leadership, could at least be a beacon of tenacity. This is certainly the case in Germany.
Dutch people are more positive about their own futures than they are about their children’s
58% of Dutch people have trust in their own futures. This means that more than 40% are unsure or do not have any trust. Thirty-nine percent have trust in the Netherlands, which is a small basis on which to build. However, the most striking fact is that only 41% have trust in the future of their children. This makes a trend break a reality. For many years, our country and our culture have been geared towards making our children’s futures better. This is now coming to an end. Evidently, we are unable to offer our children what we have had ourselves. This is a shocking observation in a developed country like the Netherlands, which is a hightrust society. Are we no longer able to achieve headway? Perhaps this is the ultimate wake-up call?
When we looked at the results of our survey, we found it very difficult to believe that trust in the Netherlands had fallen so dramatically. The question is, of course, whether we have now reached an all-time low and how we are to find our way back to the situation to which we were previously accustomed. Based on the research outcomes obtained since 2008 and on the basis of what is currently happening in the Netherlands and in the EU, we do not believe that we have reached an all-time low. However, we are in the danger zone and must seriously consider the clearly visible consequences of falling confidence in the economy and in each other.
Instead of retreating ‘to what we still do have trust in’, which implies that we are isolating ourselves from each other, the time is now right to step out from behind our shadows and embrace the outside world with an open mind. We need each other: to improve trust and to retain the lives to which we have been used – for ourselves, but, more importantly, for our children.
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