To increase the value of their work for decision-makers, and in keeping with the aspiration to leave no one behind”, the Office for National Statistics has collaborated with the City, University of London and the London School of Economic and Political Science to identify the characteristics and circumstances associated with the poorest personal wellbeing in the UK.  David Tabor, part of the Quality of Life team at ONS, explains how this work enables more strategic action for policy makers and service providers to improve the lives of those in most need. Our data shows that, between January 2014 to December 2016, an estimated 1% of people in the UK (over half a million people) reported “poor” ratings across all four personal well-being questions. Our analysis published today looked, for the first time, at some of the key factors common to those people with the poorest personal wellbeing.

Main findings

People with the poorest personal wellbeing were most likely to have at least one of the following characteristics or circumstances:

  • Self-report bad or very bad health
  • Be economically inactive with long term illness or disability
  • Be middle-aged (40-59)
  • Be single, separated, widowed or divorced
  • Be renters
  • Have no or basic education

Three groups of people at particular risk of reporting poorest personal wellbeing were identified :

  • Unemployed or inactive renters with self-reported health problems or disability
  • Employed renters with self-reported health problems or disability
  • Retired home-owners with self-reported health problems or disability

Importance of health

Using regression analysis, we found self-reported health to be the most important factor associated with the poorest personal wellbeing. Individuals reporting very bad or bad health were 13.6 times more likely to report poorest personal well-being compared to those reporting good or very good health. Self-reported disability was another significant predictor of poor personal wellbeing, but to a lesser extent than self-reported health.

Source: Annual Population Survey, 2014 to 2016 Note: the categories with an * are statistically significant when compared with their reference category

Economic activity

The economic activity of an individual also seems to play a part here – students were found to be the least likely to experience very low wellbeing. Unpaid family workers – people who work in a family business and do not receive a formal wage or salary but benefit from the profits of that business – were the group most likely to report the poorest wellbeing. Cross-over with loneliness The findings of this work are consistent with previous research, which looked at the factors contributing most to personal wellbeing.  We have also used similar methods to examine what factors are associated with feeling lonely. There seems to be cross-over here, where we have found that poor health and unemployment are important characteristics that have an impact on loneliness. These types of analyses  provide some in-depth information that could be used to target support more effectively towards those groups of people who may be struggling the most in society.

Future work

This year, ONS will be establishing a Centre of Expertise for Inequalities. The aim of the centre will be to ensure that the right data are available to address the main social and policy questions about fairness and equity in our society. This will involve partnerships across government, academia and other organisations to identify where better evidence is needed and to make better use of new and existing data sources. As part of this, we will be carrying out further work exploring:

  • additional factors to further explain the circumstances and characteristics of those reporting the poorest personal well-being
  • whether those in the current “fair” threshold (a rating of 4-5 for anxiety and 5-6 for happiness, life satisfaction and worthwhile) might be “at risk” of poor well-being, for example, by monitoring the size of this group and possible transitions in and out of poor well-being.

We do welcome feedback on the topics discussed throughout the blog, and if you feel you can contribute to this discussion, then please:

More about our work on the 'wellbeing worst off'