For over a decade, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been collating data on well-being in order to measure progress in the UK.
These UK Measures of National Well-being (UK MNW) include a wide range of information. We collect data:
about individuals, such as physical and mental health and working lives
about communities, such as people’s opinions on their local area
at a national level, including measures of the quality of our environment
Events from the past decade, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the UK’s exit from the EU, increasing public awareness of climate change and the rising cost of living have highlighted the continuing importance of many of the measures we track, as well as new areas to improve the picture we are building. Since autumn 2022, we have reviewed our measures and added new ones to make sure that 10 years on, the data we collect still reflects what is important to the UK today.
More than eight in ten (86.5%) adults in Great Britain report having made at least some changes to their lifestyle to help tackle environmental issues, according to responses to one of our new measures collected between May and June 2023.
This question was added to the UK Measures of National Well-being to help us understand people’s behaviours and attitude towards our environment. Alongside it were questions about satisfaction with public services such as policing, the courts and legal system, and the health and education systems.
This article explores some of the new measures added in the latest update to the Measures of National Well-being. You can explore all the measures in our new dashboard.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) began developing the UK Measures of National Well-being (UK MNW) in 2010, helped by over 34,000 public responses to the question “what matters to you?”. The measures developed as a result are part of efforts to better measure the state of people’s lives. They bring a range of data on personal, public, and national affairs together to understand how society is faring.
Our economic measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP), are used widely in decision making to understand how we are doing as an economy. However, there are many other areas of life which are important in capturing economic, social, and environmental progress. Tracking a range of measures allows us to have a better understanding of the welfare of citizens now or trends that will affect society in the future.
As these measures come together, they can help us build a detailed picture of both the shorter and longer-term trends in our well-being.
In this article, we’ve highlighted some of the additions for 2023.
Progress in the state of our environment is also tracked in our well-being data. Air and water quality, managing resources, biodiversity, and progress in tackling the effects of climate change all contribute to quality of life.
Over the long term, we have seen reductions of UK greenhouse gas emissions, greater use of renewable energy, larger protected areas at land and sea, and reductions in air pollution. However, there was a decline in the relative abundance of protected species.
Over the short term, recycling rates (the percentage of household waste that is recycled) have declined from 46.0% in 2019 to 44.4% in 2020. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected much of daily life in 2020, and we will need more data to understand if we are actually seeing a downward trend.
For the first time, we have asked people to report the extent to which they have made changes to their lifestyle to help tackle environmental issues. The majority of adults in Great Britain said they had made at least some changes.
Seven in ten (73.6%) of people said they had made some changes, while one in ten (12.8%) said they had made a lot. A similar proportion of people (13.5%) said they had made no changes.
Around nine in ten women (91.0%) reported having made some or a lot of lifestyle changes, compared with 81.7% of men.
Adults aged 16 to 24 years were least likely to make lifestyle changes (77.2%) and adults aged 50 to 64 years had the highest rates of making lifestyle changes (90.7%).
As part of our review, we heard about the importance of tracking individuals’ satisfaction with a range of public services in the UK, including the health system. In May to June 2023, 53.9% of adults in Great Britain said they tended to be satisfied with it.
Over the past 10 years, the UK Measures of National Well-being (UK MNW) has also tracked individuals’ satisfaction with their own health, as well as personal well-being and self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.
People’s satisfaction with their own health has been declining since 2016, while people reporting evidence of depression and anxiety has increased in the same period.
In January 2020 to December 2021, 44.7% of adults in the UK reported being mostly satisfied or completely satisfied with their general health. This is significantly lower than in January 2018 to December 2019 (48.0%), and around nine percentage points lower than in January 2009 to December 2010, when the time series began (53.3%).
This likely reflects the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which affected the UK from early 2020.
The percentage of the population reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety also increased to 23.7% in January 2020 to December 2021 (from 19.7% in January 2018 to December 2019).
The UK MNW also include measures of personal well-being, for which data are available up to the end of 2022.
These measures, such as how satisfied people feel in their life, and how anxious they feel, have remained relatively stable since late 2021. However, they have deteriorated over the longer term, with high feelings of anxiety and low life satisfaction both peaking during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In October to December 2022, 5.4% of people in the UK rated their overall satisfaction with their life as “low”. This is lower than was seen in January to March 2021 (6.4%), when restrictions were still in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, but higher than before the pandemic (4.5% in October to December 2019).
The percentage of people reporting high anxiety was also higher in October to December 2022 (23.6%) than before the pandemic (21.3% in October to December 2019).
However, the percentage of adults who report the sense of worth they feel in the things they do in life as “low’” is similar to before the pandemic, as is the percentage of people who reported low feelings of happiness.
Our review highlighted the importance of tracking how satisfied people feel with a range of other public services. Just under two-thirds (63.5%) of people in Great Britain said they tend to be satisfied with policing in the UK, according to data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) collected between 17 May and 11 June 2023.
Men were less likely to be satisfied with policing than women. Around six in ten men said they tended to be satisfied with policing in the UK (60.1%), compared with around two-thirds (66.8%) of women.
Around six in ten (60.7%) adults in Great Britain agreed or strongly agreed that their local area was a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. This is according to responses collected between 17 May and 11 June 2023.
In London, this rose to 70.8%, the highest of any nation or English region. The North East had the lowest percentage, at 53.9%.
These new measures have been added to improve the picture of life in the UK. More information on other improvements we have made, such as changing data sources and replacing old measures, as well as further updates that will be made in the future, have been explained in our Review of the UK Measures of National Well-being (UK MNW) research article.
The longer we record these measures for, the more detailed a picture we will have of where life is improving, and in which areas of life society is struggling. We have collected information on many areas for more than a decade. This allows us to see the impacts of significant events, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, on personal wellbeing, finance and more.