Spring Newsletter: ‘The Need to Belong’

09 April 2024

A recent encounter with the police gave me a positive glow. On reflection, that glow is something I have been missing for a long time. The positive feeling of belonging. Coming to the aid of a fellow citizen the police showed care, empathy, and kindness in a difficult situation. These uniformed young women and men were drilled and efficient. They worked as a team. The outcome was peaceful as planned. A young team with shared values and a sense of unity.  Working for the community. What a country to live in!

But that country, this country, the UK, is miserable. A recent survey put the UK as the second most miserable country on earth. With only Uzbekistan coming out worse. While reasons are probably multiple, it can be encapsulated in the fact this country has ceased to belong.

This is a problem. Belonging is essential for human beings. It provides a sense of connection, identity, and purpose. Why after all do we join clubs. Sports clubs, dance clubs, book clubs – you name it there is a club for it. A club though is a construct that ‘merely’ enables belonging. When you are at a club it tends to be fun. Your happiness increases.  For the nation the days of “Cool Britannia”, “Brand Britain” and hosting the 2012 Olympics are long gone. Standing outside your house and banging your saucepans for the NHS during lockdown helped us to belong. It got us through the isolation of lockdown. But what is left now?

This lack of belonging has been felt by the UK stock market. It used to fit in pride of place amongst European stock markets but now it just doesn’t fit anywhere. It’s the piece of the jigsaw that doesn’t quite match any of the surrounding shapes. International investors by-pass with ease. It is just 3% of global markets versus 10%+ a decade or so ago. Not part of the European asset allocation anymore. This has left UK investors feeling isolated. Lack of belonging can lead to profound loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Without its support network the UK stock market is struggling to find meaning. It now stands at its lowest ever valuation (using earnings) versus the US stock market. It’s like a discount store selling its wares at literally half the price of elsewhere. Psychologically, the absence of belonging can wreak havoc on an individual’s mental well-being. It has wreaked havoc on the wealth of UK savers compared to international counterparts.

Today you can almost hear the daily drip of savings leaving the country, finding a home mainly in the US. Tech investing at least means you ‘belong’ to the future of the planet. Or investing in cryptocurrencies – those made-up strings of numbers – at least brings you into the trendiest of clubs. The fact you are investing in nothing matters not. Belonging when it comes to investing comes at a high price. But at least it gives you that positive glow of while you are there.

The UK stock market must hope that whoever is elected prime minister this year prioritises the importance of belonging. Instilling training and discipline that restores our pride in institutions such as the police, the NHS, the regulators and the stock exchange for instance might be a start. From my recent experience that at least will help us all feel a little less miserable.