This article is published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Measuring National Well-being Programme. The programme aims to produce accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation – how the UK as a whole is doing. This article explores in more detail aspects of governance considered important for understanding National Well-being. It considers information on forms of civic engagement, notably satisfaction with government and democracy, interest in politics and participation in politics.
A fundamental part of the work of government is to support a better life for its citizens and help build strong and resilient communities which in turn may improve the wellbeing of individuals. This was highlighted in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) National Debate on Measuring National Well-being. When people were asked what mattered most for the measurement of National Well-being, ‘Governance’ was one aspect that people considered as most important.
The ONS national well-being measures are organised into ten domains with a total of 41 headline measures. More information about all the measures can be found on the national well-being pages of the ONS website - Measuring National Well-being
This article explores the two measures under the ‘Governance’ domain:
Those who have trust in national government.
Voter turnout (in UK General Elections).
It also looks at associated data such as satisfaction with democracy, interest in politics, political activities undertaken and Freedom of Information requests.
Most of the data used in this article are from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) 2011–12. The UKHLS collects information each year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people. For more information see the section 'About Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study'.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of people aged 15 and over reported that they ‘tended to trust’ the government in the UK in autumn 2013.
Those aged 16 to 24 were more likely to state no interest at all in politics (42%) than those aged 65 and over (21%) in the UK in 2011–12.
Over 6 in 10 (64%) of adults aged 18 and over in the UK in 2011–12, agreed or strongly agreed that they would seriously be neglecting their duty as a citizen if they didn’t vote.
Voter turnout in UK General Elections peaked in 1950 with over 8 in 10 (82%) of the electorate voting, in 2010 the turnout was 61%.
A lower proportion (57%) agreed they found politics too complicated to understand in 2012 compared with 69% in 1986 in Great Britain.
A lower proportion (60%) agreed that 'voting is the only way to have any say' in 2012, compared with 73% in 1994 in Great Britain.
Democracy can be defined as government by the people or their elected representatives. One of the measures of the National Well-being Governance domain is the percentage of those who have trust in national Government.
’If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists - to protect them and to promote their common welfare - all else is lost.’ Barack Obama, 2006.
According to the Standard Eurobarometer survey published in December 2013, nearly a quarter of people (24%) aged 15 and over in the UK reported that they ‘tended to trust’ the government in the autumn of 2013. This was a rise of 2 percentage points since spring 2013 (Figure 1 ). In the spring of 2007 the proportion of people that ‘tended to trust’ the government, stood at over a third (34%) but fell to just under a fifth (19%) in the autumn of 2009. These proportional declines occurred around the time of the UK parliamentary expenses scandal and the start of the financial crisis. From spring 2010, people’s trust in government began to rise again to peak at 32% in spring 2011 (EB,2013).
In the autumn quarter of 2013, an estimated 23% of residents of the EU-28 aged 15 and over reported that they tended to trust their own governments. The highest proportions were in Sweden (57%) and Luxembourg (51%). The lowest proportions were in Spain (9%) and Greece, Italy and Slovenia (10%). The low proportions in these countries may have been due to the recent Eurozone crisis. (EB,2013)
Just under a half (48%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK who expressed an opinion were fairly or very satisfied with the way democracy works in the UK according to the UK Household Longitudinal Study in 2011–12. Similar proportions of men and women were fairly or very satisfied at 49% and 47% respectively. The proportion of those who were very or fairly satisfied with the way democracy works varied by age in 2011–12 from 52% of those aged 16 to 24 to 45% of those aged 45 to 54.
|Satisfied with life2||Dissatisfied with life2|
|Very satisfied or fairly satisfied with the way democracy works||51||40|
|Very dissatisfied or a little dissatisfied with the way democracy works||49||60|
|Table source: Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study|
Table 1 shows that 51% of those who reported being fairly or very satisfied with life and 40% who reported dissatisfaction with life also reported that they were fairly or very satisfied with the way democracy works in the UK. However, it must be noted that 49% of those who reported satisfaction with life and 60% who reported dissatisfaction with life also reported that they were a little or very dissatisfied in the way democracy works in the UK. This indicates that there are many other factors that impact on life satisfaction and in turn overall well-being.
’Political interest is one of the most powerful and persistent predictors of political participation, ... and is widely considered a vital component for a democratic citizenry‘. Matthew Holleque, 2011
Adults aged 16 and over were asked on the 2011–12 UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) how interested they were in politics. Under half (44%) who expressed an opinion reported that they were very or fairly interested, 27% were not very interested and 28% were not at all interested. Interest in politics varied between men and women, with men more likely than women to be interested. Over half of men (52%) were very or fairly interested compared to 37% of women. Just under a quarter (23%) of men reported that they were not at all interested in politics compared to just under a third (33%) of women.
The level of interest in politics varied by age with younger people being less interested than older people. In 2011–12 over 4 in 10 (42%) of those aged 16 to 24 who expressed an opinion had no interest at all in politics compared to around 2 in 10 (21%) of those aged 65 and over (Figure 2). Under a third (31%) of adults aged 16 to 24 in the UK were very or fairly interested in politics, compared to a half of those aged 55 to 64 and 65 and over (51% and 50% respectively).
The UKHLS also asked respondents whether they agreed or not that it took too much time and effort to be active in politics and public affairs. In 2011–12, over a third of adults aged 16 and over (36%) who expressed an opinion agreed or strongly agreed that it took too much time. Around the same proportion of men and women agreed or strongly agreed with this statement (37% and 35% respectively). However, proportions who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement varied by age, from a quarter (25%) of people aged 16 to 24 to 44% of those aged 65 and over.
Whether people are more or less likely to feel they have any say over how governments run the country may be an important factor to their continued political interest. The British Social Attitudes Survey asked people aged 18 and over in Great Britain whether they agreed or disagreed that:
People like me have no say in what the government does.
Sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me cannot really understand what is going on.
Voting is the only way people like me can have any say about how the government runs things.
|People like me have no say in what government does||71||64||64||59|
|Politics and government is too complicated to understand||69||70||60||57|
|Voting is the only way to have any say2||..||73||64||60|
|Table source: British Social Attitudes Survey, NatCen Social Research|
The proportion of people agreeing with the statements fell over the four separate years as shown in Table 2. In 1986, around 7 in 10 people (71%) agreed that they had no say in what government does, by 2012 this proportion had fallen to just under 6 in 10 (59%). The proportion of those who agreed that they find politics too complicated to understand decreased by 12 percentage points between 1986 and 2012 (69% and 57% respectively). The proportion who agreed that voting is the only way to have a say fell by 13 percentage points between 1994 (73%) and 2013 (60%) (BSAS,2013).
The second measure of the National Well-being Governance domain is the percentage of parliamentary election voters as a percentage of the voting age population.
’Voting can be seen as a resource that is transformed into well-being by citizens: they vote in order to affect the actions of government in ways that are meaningful to them.’ How's Life? Measuring Well-being - Civic engagement and governance - Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In 1950 voter turnout in UK General Elections peaked with over 8 in 10 (82%) of the electorate voting according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. By 1983, turnout was down to 72% - and despite an improvement in participation in both 1987 and 1992, the General Elections in 2001 and 2005 had relatively low turnouts (both 58%). In 2010 the turnout rose to 61% (IIDEA,2010).
Young people are less likely to vote than older citizens. Exact figures about the age of voters are not available in the UK because information about the identity of voters is kept secret. However IPSOS MORI estimated that 39% of registered young people aged 18 to 24 voted at the 2001 UK general election with 37% in 2005 and 44% in 2010 (MORI,2010).
Young people aged 15 to 30 were asked on a Flash Eurobarometer Survey in April 2013 whether or not they had voted in a political election in the three years prior to interview (including local, regional and national elections). It must be noted that a certain proportion of these young people were not eligible to vote because of their age1. In 20 of the EU Member States over half of young people had voted in a political election, with the highest proportion in Malta (76%), Belgium (73%) and Italy (71%) (Figure 3). This compares with the EU average of 56%. The UK had the lowest proportion of young people voting in a political election at 38%, with 26% reporting they were not old enough (EB,2013).
According to the 2011–12 UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), 48% of people aged 18 and over who expressed an opinion and could vote, agreed or strongly agreed that they feel a sense of satisfaction when they vote. This compares to a quarter (25%) that disagreed or strongly disagreed. Feeling a sense of satisfaction when voting varies by age. Just under 3 in 10 (29%) of those aged 18 to 24 agreed or strongly agreed that they felt a sense of satisfaction when they voted. This increased to over 4 in 10 (42%) for those aged 35 to 44 and just over 6 in 10 (63%) for those aged 65 and over.
The UKHLS also shows that over 6 in 10 (64%) of people aged 18 and over who expressed an opinion in 2011–12, agreed or strongly agreed that they would seriously be neglecting their duty as a citizen if they didn’t vote. There was also a variance among age groups. For example, just under 4 in 10 (39%) of those aged 18 to 24 agreed or strongly agreed that they would seriously be neglecting their duty as a citizen if they didn’t vote compared with over 8 in 10 (80%) of those aged 65 and over (Figure 4). Conversely, 34% of young people aged 18 to 24 disagreed or strongly disagreed that they would seriously be neglecting their duty as a citizen if they didn’t vote compared to 1 in 10 (10%) of those aged 65 and over.
|Signed a petition||29||53||43||37|
|Contacted your MP||10||17||17||16|
|Gone on a protest or demonstration||6||9||12||8|
|Contacted a government department||2||4||5||6|
|Spoken to an influential person||4||5||6||6|
|Raised an issue in an organisation you belong to||7||5||6||5|
|Contacted radio, TV or newspaper||2||4||6||5|
|Formed a group of like-minded people||2||2||2||2|
|None of these||62||37||46||55|
|Table source: British Social Attitudes Survey, NatCen Social Research|
Table 3 shows that non-electoral participation has largely increased from 30 years ago. The British Social Attitudes Survey asked people aged 16 and over in Great Britain whether they had participated in a political activity about a government action which they thought unjust and harmful. People were more likely in 2011 to report signing a petition (37%) and contacting their MP (16%) than they were in 1983 (when the figures were 29% and 10% respectively). However the proportion doing these things in 2011 is smaller than was reported in 1991 and 2002. The proportion of those participating in other kinds of political activity were small but show increases since the 1980s in reporting activities such as going on a protest or contacting the media (BSAS,2013).
Another form of non-electoral participation is making a freedom of information request. The Freedom of Information Act 20002 (which came fully into force on 1 January 2005) provides public access to information held by public authorities. It does this in two ways:
Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and
Members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
In July to September (Q3) 2013 the monitored central government bodies3 received a total of 13,370 non-routine FOI requests, 16% more than in Q3 of 2012 and 6% more than Q2 2013 (Figure 5).
Departments of State accounted for nearly 7 in 10 (68%) of all requests received by monitored bodies in Q3 of 2013. This is an increase of 2 percentage points since Q3 2012 (66%) and 21 percentage points since Q3 2005 (48%).
Of the Departments of State, the Department for Work and Pensions reported having received 1,513 requests during Q3 2013, the highest departmental total followed by the Department for Transport (1,074 requests) and the Ministry of Justice (1,038 requests).
Voting is compulsory for at least some elections in Belgium, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Greece. The voting age is 18 for most of the elections in the EU Member States and in Croatia, with the exception of Austria where the voting age is 16.
Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Understanding Society is a unique and valuable academic study that captures important information every year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people living in 40,000 UK households. It also collects additional health information from around 20,000 of the people who take part.
Information from the longitudinal survey is primarily used by academics, researchers and policy makers in their work, but the findings are of interest to a much wider group of people including those working in the third sector, health practitioners, business, the media and the general public.
40,000 households – 2,640 postcode sectors in England, Scotland and Wales – 2,400 addresses from Northern Ireland.
£48.9 million funding (until 2015).
Approximately 3 billion data points of information.
Innovation Panel of 1,500 respondents.
Participants aged 10 and older.
Building on 18 years of British Household Panel Survey.
35 to 60 minutes: the average time to complete each face to face interview.
How does it work?
Interviews began in 2009 with all eligible members of the selected households.
Adults are interviewed every 12 months either face to face or over the phone using Computer Assisted Interviewing.
10 to 15 year olds fill in a paper self-completion questionnaire.
From 2010 some 20,000 participants aged over 16 also received nurse visits and provided a blood sample and some basic physical measurements (height, weight, blood pressure, grip strength).
For more information about the UKHLS see Understanding Society
This article is published as part of the ONS Measuring National Well-being Programme.
The programme aims to produce accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation - how the UK as a whole is doing. It is about looking at 'GDP and beyond' and includes:
Greater analysis of the national economic accounts, especially to understand household income, expenditure and wealth.
Further accounts linked to the national accounts, including the UK Environmental Accounts and valuing household production and 'human capital'.
Quality of life measures, looking at different areas of national well-being such as health, relationships, job satisfaction, economic security, education environmental conditions.
Working with others to include the measurement of the well-being of children and young people as part of national well-being.
Measures of 'personal well-being' - individuals' assessment of their own well-being.
Headline indicators to summarise national well-being and the progress we are making as a society.
The programme is underpinned by a communication and engagement workstream, providing links with Cabinet Office and policy departments, international developments, the public and other stakeholders. The programme is working closely with Defra on the measurement of 'sustainable development' to provide a complete picture of national well-being, progress and sustainable development.
Find out more on the Measuring National Well-being website pages.