London least happy in the UK

Published on Friday, 08 June 2012 10:52
Written by Scott Buckler

The first ever Office for National Statistics (ONS) population survey to include questions about national well-being has been published today, revealing sharp differences in well-being across the country. But there is a missing piece of the puzzle as income patterns have not been reported.

New statistics on national well-being show:

  •  Londoners are the least happy and most anxious people in the UK
  •  Black Britons are less satisfied with their lives than the wider population
  •  People with children feel their lives are more worthwhile
  •  1 in 20 people in the UK report feeling ‘completely lonely’
  •  Part-time workers are happier than those working full-time
  •  16 per cent of Britons report low life satisfaction (5 or less out of 10)

Despite being the richest region of the UK, Londoners reported the lowest average life satisfaction and highest levels of anxiety. London has the highest levels of economic output (GVA of £32,000 per capita compared to the UK average of £21,000), but the lowest levels of life satisfaction (7.2 out of 10 compared to the UK average 7.4) and highest levels of anxiety (3.5 out of 10 in London compared to an average of 3.2 across the UK).

The West Midlands comes second lowest in terms of life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is highest in Northern Ireland (7.6 out of 10), the region with the lowest economic output per capita (GVA of £15,700).

Black, Black British and Arab respondents score 6.7 out of 10 on life satisfaction, compared to the UK mean of 7.4. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Mixed groups also have significantly lower well-being than the average.

Part-time workers had the highest life satisfaction, with those working 15 or hours or less averaging 7.7 out of 10. This advantage for part-time work only applied to those who had chosen to work part-time.  Those who did so because they could not find full-time work had lower life satisfaction (6.9 out of 10).

As unemployment grows in the UK, the new data provide a warning of the negative impact this will have on well-being. The unemployed are a full point less satisfied than the employed (6.5 out of 10 compared to 7.5 out of 10). Those unemployed for more than a year had an average life satisfaction score of 6.0 out of 10.

Today’s figures have one glaring omission; the income patterns of respondents. Previous well-being studies have found a clear link between happiness and earnings. nef analysis of existing data revealed those in the bottom income decline are more than twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their lives than people in the top 30%.

It is important that the ONS present further data on this so as to understand how different sectors of society are faring in the face of the recession.

Juliet Michaelson, senior researcher at nef said:

“This data tells a story overlooked by traditional economic measures about what really matters to us. London is the richest region in the UK, but it is not the happiest –respondents scored poorly on all of the well-being indicators.

“Well-being measures give us a new understanding of the lives of different population groups, with Black Britons and the unemployed, for example, having particularly low well-being. The challenge now is to understand what is driving these considerable differences, but income data remains the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Charles Seaford, head of the centre for well-being at nef, said:

“Well-being data provides us with an insight to what really matters to people in the UK. Today’s ONS statistics will help policy-makers to identify where interventions are most needed, and better understand the impact that any interventions may have. 

“The UK is on its way to having the single largest official data set covering well-being in the world, presenting the opportunity for a uniquely detailed level of analysis.  These new data will be a valuable resource both for policy-makers and for those whose role it is to hold government to account”

Saamah Abdallah, researcher at the centre for well-being said:

“We know more and more about the conditions that people value in their lives. The challenge now is to tie these data together with measures of our environmental impact in a coherent way and to work towards good lives that don’t cost the Earth."

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