'Britons satisfied despite downturn' ONS well-being report finds
Real incomes have fallen and many have been struggling to cope financially since the recession, yet a majority of people in the UK say they are largely satisfied with their lives.
That is according to a report published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Entitled “Measuring National Well-being: Life in the UK, 2012”, the report paints a largely optimistic picture of people’s life satisfaction.
According to the ONS, more than three-quarters (75.9 per cent) of people aged 16 and over in the UK rated their overall life satisfaction as medium or high in 2011/12, and four-fifths (80 per cent) felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile.
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Life satisfaction has remained broadly stable throughout the past decade, the ONS found. Well-being is highest for the young and old, but is lower for the middle-aged.
The report, designed to develop a trusted set of National Statistics which help people understand and monitor well-being, is the first snapshot of life in the UK to be delivered by the ONS’ Measuring National Well-being programme.
Launched in November 2010, the programme was designed to complement other National Statistics to allow a fuller, more informed picture of life in the UK. It kicked off with a six month National Debate, asking, ‘what matters’, to help understand what measures of well-being should include.
Following 175 events, with 2,750 people and 34,000 responses received online or via other channels, the ONS developed a framework for measuring national well-being. Today, the body has published an interactive National Well-being wheel which allows people to see how the nation is doing in the round.
It takes into consideration areas such as health, education, the unemployment rate and satisfaction with our health.
According to the report, 67 per cent of people say they are somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their social life, and 77.8 with their job standing.
Meanwhile satisfaction with family life averages 8.2 out of 10 (where one is very dissatisfied and 10 very satisfied).
Some 66 per cent agreed or strongly agreed they felt they belonged to their neighbourhood, and 96.8 per cent said they had someone they could really count on in a crisis. Meanwhile 75.1 per cent felt very or fairly safe walking alone after dark.
And when asked to reflect on their feelings during the preceding day, more than seven out of 10 people in the UK rated their happiness as medium/high. In terms of anxiety people felt the day before, four out of 10 reported high anxiety.
Some 68.3 per cent said they were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their health, but around one in five reported some kind of psychological disturbance or mental ill health.
The report also notes that although “more recently, household incomes have begun to decrease,” and in 2009/10 some 12.3 per cent of adults aged 16 and over in the UK found it quite or very difficult to manage financially, figures show “overall 57.2 per cent were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their income in 2009/10.”
Stephen Hicks, assistant programme director for measuring wellbeing at the ONS, said: “By publishing this report we are trying to bring together a range of statistics. We are trying to paint a picture of what is happening in the UK.
“Recently real household incomes have fallen and we know economic circumstances are difficult for people – one in eight is finding it hard to manage. But there are other measures we need to take into account when assessing wellbeing.
“What was interesting is that although one in eight people are finding it hard to manage, life satisfaction remains largely positive over the decade.”
Mr Hicks noted the finding that one in five people reported some kind of psychological disturbance or mental ill health. “Mental illness is still a problem,” he said.
Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, echoed this: “The finding that one in five individuals is experiencing some kind of mental health problem confirms previous estimates, and is worrying.
“We know that the continuing recession is increasing the risk of depression and anxiety. More people are calling helplines and the past couple of years have seen an increase in suicide rates.
“If we really want to see the UK population enjoy better mental health, we must commit far more resources than at present to promoting mental wellbeing, preventing mental illness and supporting early intervention services.”
Asked how the ONS intends the data to be used, assistant programme director Mr Hicks said: “We hope to allow people to use it to make an assessment of the wellbeing of the nation, but also decisions themselves – for example, where they might want to live.
“Secondly, we hope it will be used in policy, by the Government and Local Authorities. Thirdly, eco-international demand – how does the UK compare with other countries around the world?”
Asked whether the ONS data was a "statement of the bleeding obvious" – a criticism levelled by Labour – Mr Hicks said: “We are trying to measure for the first time well-being in official statistics. It provides us with much larger samples, so it can help people delve deeper than before.”
Mr Hicks explained the programme will run until March 2015, with new data being gathered on a continual basis. “We hope they will get below the surface to look at more detail,” he added.
To read the report in full, click here.