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ONS sheds more light on Life in the UK

Released: 20 November 2012 Download PDF

National well-being is about ‘measuring what matters’ - bringing together relevant economic, social and environmental statistics to show how the country is doing overall and how people’s lives are affected by their circumstances.  Today the Office for National Statistics has brought together a breadth of information and a new web-based tool to help understand and monitor it – the ‘National Well-being wheel’ - that allows people to see how the nation is doing in the round or focus on particular areas of interest.

Since the recent recession real incomes have fallen as inflation has risen faster than incomes. Around 1 in 8 people were finding it quite or very difficult to manage financially. Despite this, people have been shown to be quite resilient – life satisfaction has remained broadly stable throughout the last decade. Healthy life expectancy has increased as has our overall satisfaction with our health.  However, mental health remains an important issue – around 1 in 5 reported some kind of psychological distress

National Statistician Jil Matheson said: “These findings emphasise the need to look beyond the ‘average’ or national picture – it is understanding these differences that will highlight the real areas of need.”

It’s still early days, but there are signs that well-being measures are being used more in policy making.  For example, research has shown that those on job seekers allowance with poor mental health and low subjective well-being take longer to find work.  Connections could now be made between Job Centres and Mental Health trusts to address the issues.

The environment impacts on people’s lives today and future generations. Long term progress has been made on improving the natural environment.  For example, there have been significant increases in the proportion of protected areas; use of renewable energy has doubled between 2000 and 2010; and there have been decreases in air pollutants – carbon monoxide has halved since 2000.

The National Well-being programme was launched two years ago, with the aim being to ‘develop and publish an accepted and trusted set of National Statistics which help people understand and monitor well-being’. The programme was designed to complement other National Statistics to allow a fuller, more informed snapshot of life in the UK.

There is still work to do to fully understand national well-being and what actions are needed to improve it. In particular, there is an important story in what lies beneath; where are the differences, and why?

The next phase of the Measuring National Well-being programme is to identify and explore in more detail those areas which differ from the average and to investigate what relationships exist between the factors affecting well-being. It will also consider ways at showing the direction of travel for the nation.  The programme will continue to consult widely and to develop existing methods and outputs.

Read the full report.

View the interactive National Well-being wheel of measures. 

Media contact:
Tel Jim Campbell    0845 6041858 
Emergency on-call    07867 906553

Statistical contact:
Tel Abbie Self 01633 455855


Background notes

  1. Experimental statistics are those which are in the testing phase, are not yet fully developed and have not been submitted for assessment to the UK Statistics Authority. They are published to involve users at an early stage in their development.
  2. The Measuring National Well-being Programme was launched in November 2010 to provide a fuller understanding of how society is doing than economic measures, such as GDP. It started with a three month national debate on ‘What matters to you?’ to improve understanding of what should be included in measures of the nation’s well-being. Measuring What Matters: National Statistician's Reflections on the National Debate on Measuring National Well-being was published in July 2011. On 31 October 2011 ONS started a consultation on the proposed domains and headline indicators for measuring national well-being. A summary of responses was released on the 28 February 2012. On 24 July 2012 a further publication provided a more detailed response and a revised set of domains and measures based on feedback received.
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