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Aug 25, 2022 | by What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Measuring Progress: Quality of Life in the UK 2022

Effective decision making requires high quality, rapid and relevant feedback on how we’re doing and how sustainable it is for the future. 

In response, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has brought together national economic, environmental, and social progress data together for the first time. The new quarterly package marks the first update to the Measures of National Well-being dashboard since 2019. 

In this week’s blog, we look at what this update means for measuring and understanding wellbeing in the UK. 

National wellbeing is measuring how people in the UK are doing as individuals, as communities and as a nation. The reporting of change over time supports evaluation of UK’s progress and future sustainability of national wellbeing.

The ONS’ Measures of National Well-being dashboard provides a visual overview of the subjective and objective indicators of national wellbeing, organised into 10 areas (domains): 

  1. Personal wellbeing
  2. Relationships
  3. Health
  4. What we do
  5. Where we live
  6. Personal finance
  7. Economy
  8. Education and skills
  9. Governance
  10. Environment

Alongside where we live (place), relationships (people) and governance (power) are aspects of social capital which make up our model of community wellbeing.

The new Quality of life in the UK publication series provides commentary on how the UK is faring across different areas of life. In addition to the covering 10 dimensions of national wellbeing from the dashboard, the dataset contains current and historical data, sub-population breakdowns by region, age and sex for the latest data (where available). 

The August 2022 release details that:

  • Improvement in 14 of the 44 indicators, deterioration in 9, no change in 6 
  • although subjective wellbeing is still below pre-pandemic levels, a quarter of the UK are very satisfied with their lives, and a third experience high levels of happiness and very low anxiety;
  • people most recently reported high levels of social capital, with 87% having someone to rely on when they need it and 66% trusting most people (June to July 2022); 
  • while fewer people are in unhappy relationships than 2013-14, 6.5% report being lonely, an increase since 2013-14;
  • unemployment increased during the pandemic, but now continues to fall, with job and leisure satisfaction increasing from 2013/14 – we know that employment status and job quality have a big and lasting impact on wellbeing;
  • one in five people experienced depression and anxiety in 2019-20, a short- and long-term increase, indicating a decline in mental health. During the same period, participation in sports dropped, which may have a longer term impact on both physical and mental health.

A holistic approach towards a wellbeing state

As we have seen over the course of the pandemic, there is a growing need to develop wider measures that accurately capture and reflect changes to our society and environment.

Publishing wellbeing data alongside economic and environmental data collates our ‘hidden wealth’ – non-monetary measures and social capital – in one place. This inclusive view enables us to measure national progress more fully than can be captured in traditional economic measures alone, such as GDP or social policy measures, such as life expectancy. This moves us towards completing our full national accounts and an optimistically resilient Wellbeing State

“Economic growth remains a key issue, but it is important that this be complemented with other data to understand the full impact of economic growth on our society and environment, striving to provide measures that are meaningful and take into consideration the full effects of societal progress.”

–  Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician

How policymakers and practitioners can use the dashboard

The ONS data is a shared evidence base that all departments and sectors can work from. You can understand which domain of the framework your organisation contributes to most, where you help others and where others help you. Everyone should be able to fit in somewhere and, if not, the UK is missing something in the framework (respond to the ONS consultation below). 

Here are examples of how wellbeing at the heart of policy can be implemented:

  • The Canal & Rivers Trust, a primarily environment focused organisation, developed an outcomes framework to understand the social, economic and environmental impacts their waterways and activities have on the communities they serve and how to maximise these outcomes.  
  • Carnegie UK worked with community planning partnerships in Northern Ireland working across sectors, on a four-year programme to embed wellbeing, sharing knowledge with a wider network of local authorities and highlighting the importance of data.
  • Large organisations can act as anchors in local communities, impacting wellbeing e.g. civic universities, health sector institutions

Analysts and policymakers at national and local governance levels can follow the HM Treasury Green Book supplementary guidance on wellbeing valuation to understand how to use the ONS data in policy making. This autumn we are running training on how to implement the Green Book recommendations and supplementary guidance for wellbeing. You can also join our free webinar on how to use insights on how we’re doing at a local authority level.

Those working in the private sector can use the wellbeing metrics to put the ‘S’ (social) in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria. The voluntary reporting standards for business can be used as a starting point for organisations in terms of understanding wellbeing in the workforce and the supply chain. They are aligned with national-level measurement, and supported by the ONS update.

Practitioners working in charities and other volunteer and civil organisations can get support on measuring wellbeing from our dedicated microsite resource, as well as signing up to one of our tailored advice sessions to learn how to get the most out of wellbeing data.

Are we still capturing what is important to UK wellbeing?

The ONS National Wellbeing Framework was first created over a decade ago. Over those eleven years, there have been significant changes to society including the UK’s exit from the European Union, the Coronavirus pandemic and the current cost of living challenge. 

Despite these changes, and like the ONS, we believe that the 10 domains of life identified in 2011 remain as important today. The domains have formed the basis for the Centre’s Covid WIRED database bringing together emerging research on the impact of the pandemic on different populations and on different outcomes. We have also promoted their consistent use across departments and sectors, for example the HM Treasury Green Book guidance, the Department for Education State of the Nation report, and the National Infrastructure Commission’s definition and measures of quality of life as part of its objective to improve it. There is incredible value in using these objective and subjective domains consistently over time to get a picture of how we were and are doing.

It is also useful to assess whether, at a more detailed level, the 44 measures captured under the framework are still the best measures of wellbeing in the UK. To do this, the ONS will launch a public consultation on Monday 3 October to review measures and consider how to best communicate wellbeing insights. 

As part of this, we will be contributing our expertise to help shape and understand the future of wellbeing measurement to ensure information is robust, representative and useful. This includes the continued use of the broad domain headings to frame the ONS data, and advocating for better local level data on wellbeing and its drivers.  

Take part in the public consultation launch event

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Take part in the public consultation launch event

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