The world faces some big and serious problems. Globally, progress towards achieving quality of life indicators has been limited, with over a billion people continuing to live in extreme poverty[ref]World Bank (2010). World Bank Poverty Brief.[/ref] The future of international action on climate change seems uncertain. Damage and degradation of ecosystems across the world is serious, widespread and ongoing.[ref]Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.[/ref] Here in the UK economic inequality recently reached a 50-year high,[ref]Brewer, M., Muriel, A., Phillips, D., and Sibieta, L. (2009) Poverty and inequality in the UK: 2009. IFS Commentary.[/ref] child wellbeing is the lowest-ranked in the developed world[ref]UNICEF (2007), A Comprehensive Assessment of the Lives and Well-Being of Children and Adolescents in the Economically Advanced Nations. Innocenti Research Centre, Report Card 7.[/ref] and anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiment have become widespread[ref]Siddique, H. Three-quarters of non-Muslims believe Islam negative for Britain. Guardian, Monday 2 August 2010; Telegraph. “Islam associated with terrorism by public, poll shows”. 7 June 2010.
Townsend, M. Searchlight poll finds huge support for far right ‘if they gave up violence’. Guardian, Saturday 26 February 2011.[/ref] – as has disengagement from social justice issues.[ref]Third Sector Foresight. Attitudes towards domestic poverty. Thursday 3 February 2011. Hanley, T. Engaging public support for eradicating UK poverty. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 24 September 2009.[/ref]

Encouraging headway continues to be made in many areas, and the progress achieved – and damage prevented – are undoubtedly important. Yet these challenges reflect systemic, structural problems that remain stubbornly intact, in spite of many efforts to spur lasting change. The power of vested interests and the inertia of entrenched political institutions have frequently prevented major inroads being made.

However, one of the most neglected factors in pushing for change is the set of values that motivate people – which represent a strong driving force behind many of our attitudes and behaviours. Examining these values more closely reveals some deep connections between seemingly different issues – and a wealth of opportunities to bring about lasting, systemic change.

Richard HawkinsHandbook