Mapping well-being in the UK

Photo credit:   art crimes

July 24, 2012 // By:

This morning, the ONS released the results from the well-being questions in the first full year Annual Population Survey. With 200,000 respondents, this is largest dataset on well-being for any single country in a single year. While the full dataset will not be available for some weeks, the initial results reveal some interesting stories. The ONS have provided a useful interactive map to show how well-being varies from place to place – from region to city to local authority.

The results highlight the wide degree of variation in well-being across the country. York leads the way in terms of life satisfaction, with 83% of respondents reporting medium or high levels of life satisfaction (that is, they rate their satisfaction with life as 7 or higher out of 10). Meanwhile, Blackpool, often thought of as the capital of pleasure, comes bottom of the table in terms of happiness experienced the previous day - 37% of respondents there report low levels of happiness. This compares with 17% in the Scottish islands. Birmingham has the highest proportion of people who do not feel satisfied or that the things they do in their lives are worthwhile, while London has the highest proportion of people who feel anxious.

The results also highlight a number of other interesting stories. Black Britons are less satisfied with their lives than the wider population, while people of Arab ethnicity are more anxious than any other group. And the proportion of people reporting low life satisfaction is more than double among the unemployed than among the employed. Importantly, almost a quarter of Britons report low or very low (6 out of 10 or lower) life satisfaction, and there are significant numbers of people with low life satisfaction scores across all regions, professions, ages and ethnic groups.

While these headline results are interesting, it’s important that we don’t just stop there. The real value of the data lies in how it can be used by policy-makers to identify policies that are beneficial for well-being, and for others to hold government to account when the policies implemented are damaging for well-being. In order to achieve this, detailed analysis of the full dataset will be required when it is released.  As time-series data emerges over the next few years, the richer the possible analysis, and the clearer the lessons for policy.

Unfortunately, the results released today didn’t provide any information on how well-being varies with household income. This is a big omission – and limits the extent of the analysis that can be done.   Previous studies of well-being have found a clear link between income and well-being. And unless these data are made available, it will not be possible to reveal the extent to which differences in well-being across different population groups (for example, across different ethnic groups and professional groups) can be explained by differences in income. 

The publication of the results today are a great step towards understanding the well-being of the nation, but the real benefit to society will come from understanding how this translates into policy. My colleagues at nef and I look forward to analysing the data when it gets released, and hope that that the ONS will provide further data on household income in future releases.

Issues

Well-being

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