lifestyle politics

Exploring the nation’s wellbeing

This week the Office of National Statistics released their first annual accounts of wellbeing. It’s the first time that the government has actively and consistently attempted to measure the wellbeing of British citizens. I was one of the 34,000 people who contributed to the research behind it, so I’ve been curious to see how it turned out. From an initial reading, it looks very useful.

Although it’s been caricatured as a measure of happiness in the media, reported happiness is just one of forty different measures in the report. Others include job satisfaction, fear of crime, health, access to green space, financial security, education, and political engagement. The list is quite impressive, and it’s an intriguing snapshot of where we are and how we’re doing as a nation. If you’ve got five minutes, have a scroll through the headline figures on the interactive wheel here or check out the data by region here.

There are some interesting points to discover here. The government will be pleased to see that 71% of people consider themselves to be fairly happy and satisfied. They should be rather alarmed to read that just 21% of people trust the national government – that suggests a deep problem with our democracy. Other things we could follow up on could include leisure time, with 62% of people saying they were satisfied they had enough. 18% of us show some form of mental health problem, which also seems very high to me, and levels of anxiety are at almost 40%. These are all things we should be monitoring and exploring in more detail.

The wellbeing accounts are not intended to replace GDP, but to complement it. “Traditional measures of progress such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have long been recognised as an incomplete picture of the state of the nation” says the ONS. “Other economic, social and environmental measures are needed alongside GDP to provide a complete picture of how society is doing.”

Having created it, I hope the government will refer to the wellbeing accounts from time to time.


  1. This is very interesting… the two that surprise me is the small percentage who volunteer (19%) and the lack of people who utilise green spaces at least once per week (53%) – would be great to compare this with Australia and other countries… I agree and hope the UK government and others refer to this great study when and where possible. Also is there a copy of the survey as I would be keen to see the cultural context of the questions as well?

  2. For various reasons, I expect it will be a rough guide, so there are surprises. One which stands out for me is, being that we are such a consumerist society, with much more than our needs (generally), I find it difficult to reconcile 80% with a medium/high rating of how worthwhile the things they do are. I appreciate this suggests more than occupations, but would really like to know what the definitions break down to. The industry society has much to consider, when related to human well-being overall, I believe.

    1. I thought it was interesting that 80% of people are satisfied with the life generally, but 45% are unsatisfied with their household income – this could be related to the consumerist society you mention.

      1. Yes. The capitalist growth system has conditioned jo bloggs to want more. Maybe, in opposition, we ought to refer to the consumerist society as the waste society (the wasteful west), to bring a clearer awareness to jo bloggs. And perhaps TV programmes like Dragons Den and The Apprentice should be de-cried?

  3. I often hear Green types suggest that we need new indicators of well-being, beyond GDP. This is of course correct but misleading. The assumption is (or seems to be) that if we simply replace indicators we will realise how silly GDP growth is and abandon it as a societal goal. But, of course, market capitalist societies REQUIRE growth…and NOT growth in ‘well-being’ but hard, dirty, polluting GDP growth i.e never ending rises in production and consumption. So it is no surprise that the UK Gov pledges to add these well-being indictors to its already existing GDP indicators. And it will be no surprise (or should be no surprise) when they continue to focus, overwhelmingly, on GDP growth (like every other country) irrespective of what is happening with their well-being indicators. Woops, looks like capitalism is incompatible with sustainability…!

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