The hidden ‘happiness gap’ in our communities

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Download Measuring wellbeing inequality in Britain (March 2017)

We are launching this report at the Centre’s Annual Lecture, where Prof. John Helliwell will be speaking on the topic. To follow the discussions live on Twitter, you can use #WBlecture or @whatworksWB.

 


 Wellbeing inequality is a much better predictor of social trust than income inequality.  Given trust is such an important factor in creating cohesive, compassionate societies, it is important we do more work to understand what policies can lower wellbeing inequality.

Professor Helliwell

Wellbeing data tells us how people actually feel about their lives, whether they are thriving or struggling.  Using existing data about health, employment, education, crime and relationships – our wellbeing – in new ways, could help us explain everything from why we voted to leave the EU to what makes us trust our neighbours. But it leaves us grappling with fascinating, and vital, questions: does it matter if there is a big gap between the most miserable and the most happy in our society?  What broader information does it tell us about our society? And if it is undesirable, what policy responses might be useful?

Overall wellbeing inequality in 2014-15 for all local authorities, excluding London

overall-inequality

Advances in wellbeing data infrastructure mean we can now look beyond income inequality alone as an indicator of how people are struggling, or thriving, in daily life. It’s a new concept called wellbeing inequality that is only just taking off in local authorities across the country. As with income inequality, large differences between those at the top  – the happiest – and bottom  – experiencing misery – is a bad thing for society.

An example of how it paints a fuller picture than income distribution: evidence shows it’s been a better measure than income inequality in predicting how different communities voted in the EU referendum. Places that had higher overall wellbeing inequality were more likely to vote to leave the European Union.  The relationship was significant, even after researchers controlled for other variables including median income, income inequality, unemployment levels, education levels and ethnicity.

High wellbeing inequality is also associated with lower trust in society.

Now, the editor of the World Happiness Report, Professor John Helliwell, is over to the UK from Canada, where he led the rallying call for a wellbeing inequality lens in policymaking. His goal? Helliwell is determined to convince local authorities across the UK that if they look at their communities through the lens of wellbeing inequalities, they’ll get a better idea of how people are coping, or not, and why different groups – men or women, young or old, for example – are impacted in different ways.

He is working with the Office of National Statistics and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, part of the national network of What Works Centres informing government policy on key social issues.

 

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