Yesterday the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released their estimates of personal wellbeing in the UK. In addition to providing a picture of personal wellbeing at national level, there is also a focus on estimates for UK local authorities. For the first time, possible explanations for the observed differences between local authorities at a combined authority level have been examined. This provides further insights into local drivers of wellbeing to enable better decision-making at local level.

David Tabor, from the ONS, shares the key messages and looks at why this data is important for everybody in the UK.

What are the main findings?

  • The average ratings across the four measures of personal wellbeing in the UK were unchanged.
  • Average ratings of feeling the things done in life are worthwhile increased in Scotland. This was driven by a higher percentage of people reporting very high levels for this measure.
  • A larger percentage of people in Wales reported low levels of worthwhile and happiness when compared to the rest of the UK. Interestingly, a larger proportion of people in Wales reported both low levels of life but also very high levels of life satisfaction. This suggests greater disparity in life satisfaction in Wales compared to the UK overall.
  • People in Northern Ireland continued to report better average ratings across all personal wellbeing measures when compared to both the UK and the other countries

What’s important about this data?

Over the past seven years, we have been asking personal wellbeing questions to adults in the UK. This has provided insights into the quality of people’s lives and surroundings beyond the economic health of the country (such as Gross Domestic Product).

The bulletin released yesterday provides personal wellbeing data to a local authority level for the year ending March 2018. In our analysis of this data, we have identified for the first time how factors such as health, access to services, and crime levels may affect how people rate their wellbeing in different parts of the UK. This in turn can help local authorities and other organisations to better understand where services could be targeted to help improve the wellbeing of people in their area.

What factors contribute to personal wellbeing in local areas?

The ONS has worked in collaboration with the UK charity Happy City and the ONS Centre for Cities and Regions to consider a wide range of local circumstances and how these might help us to understand differences in personal wellbeing at local level. Happy City developed the Thriving Places Index (TPI) as a framework of measuring what matters at a local level. Many of the indicators that make up the Index were used to explore differences in personal wellbeing within and between England’s six Combined Authorities, plus the Sheffield City Region and Greater London Authority. These are groups of local authorities that have chosen to work collaboratively and have been given devolved powers through negotiation with central Government. The combined authorities are particularly interesting as their local decision-makers have greater power to affect key aspects of people’s lives in their areas, or the ability to negotiate increases in such powers. The aim is to shed light on how people rate their own wellbeing and how this relates to important aspects of quality of life in the areas in which they live.

The key question is: How could using a well-being lens help with this? How does the individual well-being of people factor into plans for economic growth and the Local Industrial Strategies?  We have looked at the latest ONS personal wellbeing estimates (between the year ending March 2017 and the year ending March 2018) from each local authority within each combined authority to see how they fare in wellbeing terms, based on the rating of their own residents. Then we used data from the TPI to consider how local circumstances may be shaping the quality of life of local residents and how this is reflected in the area’s average wellbeing ratings.
This gave us a useful starting point for understanding the aggregate personal wellbeing baseline in each area. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustaining and improving well-being, today’s bulletin considers the important challenges to wellbeing for each Combined Authority and areas of real strength from which other areas might learn.

Examples include Wigan in Greater Manchester CA where people have a higher average feeling that what they are doing is worthwhile and a lower average feeling of anxiety, Solihull in the West Midlands CA where people are happier and have greater average life satisfaction than the UK average, and Harrow and Sutton in Greater London which are the boroughs in London where people are happiest and have lowest anxiety levels. In each of these brighter spots, it is important to consider what examples of good practice exist there and what is it specifically that enhances quality of life for their residents.

Another example is the West of England Combined Authority, where South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset are both fairly close to the England average in wellbeing measures, whereas the City of Bristol is below average on all four measures. This seems to be a combination of factors affecting Bristol including having higher rates of crime than average, slightly lower life expectancy than average, and apparently people having less access to green space, whereas the opposite is true in the other two authorities.

Which other indicators are used to measure national wellbeing?

Personal wellbeing isn’t the only measure of national wellbeing. In total there are 43 indicators which are used to measure this. These include our physical and mental health, the environment we live in, the quality of our day to day jobs and the levels of crime in our area. Our interactive dashboard highlights these measures and an assessment of change over time.

You gave us feedback and we listened

In February 2018, we launched a survey to gather user feedback about our personal wellbeing outputs and today we also publish a summary report outlining the main findings . A similar survey was launched for the Measuring National Wellbeing outputs in April 2018 and a summary report of that feedback is available.

As part of the feedback, users expressed a need for more information on lower geographies and more analysis on factors driving personal wellbeing. Our release today aims to provide further analysis in this respect and we are planning to carry out more work on this for our next releases.

In addition, over the next few months, we are planning to develop more in-depth knowledge of the factors which indicate and drive levels of wellbeing across the UK. We will also engage with our users by understanding how our outputs can be more useful for them and exploring new opportunities to present our findings across new interactive materials.

Can you contact us?

Yes please!

If you would like to provide additional feedback about this specific work at local level or any opinions you might have about our well-being outputs, please contact us at QualityOfLife@ons.gov.uk or complete this on-going feedback survey.