Well-being patterns uncovered: a new wealth of data for the UK
Photo credit: tranchis
November 20, 2012 // By: Saamah Abdallah
Two years ago, Prime Minister David Cameron gave the Office for National Statistics the green light to begin a new programme for Measuring National Well-Being. A key part of the programme was to begin to collect subjective well-being data on a scale never before seen. The decision transformed debate on subjective well-being around the world, from whether it should be measured to how it should be measured and, ultimately, what we should do with the data when we have it. Having advocated the measurement of well-being since 2006, November 2010 was a hugely satisfying personal landmark.
There may be other commitments that the Government has abandoned, but it has stayed true to its pledge to measure well-being. Earlier this autumn, the first year of data from the Annual Population Survey (APS) – 160,000 respondents answering four questions on subjective well-being – was made available for analysts, allowing nef to begin to explore the rich patterns of well-being in the country.
Today, to coincide with the Office for National Statistics’ two-year anniversary event, we are launching Well-being patterns uncovered – our report based on these new data (the Office for National Statistics are also launching a report today, entitled Measuring National Well-Being: Life in the UK 2012). Our report highlights the value of the data to analysts both inside government and outside, in terms of identifying population groups with low well-being, and the factors associated with high well-being.
We analysed the data on themes relating to ethnicity, types of employment, working hours, inequality and geography, and identified some interesting patterns and questions worthy of further consideration.
Why is it that many ethnic minorities have much lower levels of well-being that white people in the UK? We found that this is not simply explained by economic and household characteristics – even when these are controlled for there still appears to be a penalty in terms of well-being simply for belonging to many ethnic minorities, particularly for Bangladeshi people. What are the societal causes for this?
What are the optimum working hours for well-being? That may depend to some extent on how one defines well-being, but overall working very long hours appears to have a detrimental effect. It is almost true to say that, for every person in the UK suffering low well-being because of unemployment, there is someone suffering low well-being because of over-employment.
And why is it that some parts of the country seem to have such high well-being and others such low well-being? On the Scottish Islands (the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland), 41% of people have high well-being on all the measures collected in the APS. In Inner London, only 20% - less than half. This, despite Inner London being the richest part of the UK, and indeed in Europe.
Over the next few days, my co-author Sagar Shah and I will be posting on some of issues stories in more detail, starting with ethnicity later on today.
Well-being patterns uncovered does not attempt to answer all the questions on well-being in the UK. Rather, it is an entry point into this new and fantastic resource at the disposal of analysts in the UK. We urge both policy-makers and advocates outside of government to use this data to identify needs, develop policy ideas and to start taking action to improve the well-being of people in the UK.