Election 2017: can wellbeing data help unpack what matters?

Uncertainty appears to be the new normal when it comes to politics. The traditional lenses we use to examine public attitudes and behaviour, like income and GDP or healthy life expectancy, are still part of the mix. But it is wellbeing concepts that give us a really useful vocabulary to talk about the incredible changes we’re seeing in attitudes at a local and national level.

The most important early observations from a wellbeing perspective are:

1. Governance, specifically trust in the delivery of public services, matters. This is something that’s relevant all the time, not just at elections. Governance is often overlooked when it comes to it’s effect on our wellbeing, compared to other things like health, personal finance or relationships. However, it’s now coming to the forefront as we try to better understand what voting behaviour is telling us about people’s lived experiences.

Using the World Bank indicators, analysis shows that what ranks highest in importance for people are ‘effectiveness of government services and efficiency of government and policy delivery’. This is particularly important at lower GDP levels, but still holds true in richer countries.

The European Social Survey suggests that once a country reaches a good level of GDP, other governance factors become important, particularly ‘voice and accountability’, ‘political stability and absence of violence and terrorism’.

The evidence shows that when people are satisfied with the way they are governed, wellbeing is higher and more equal. Political stability bucks this trend, presumably because the longer a government remains in power, the more people feel that their interests and opinions are not being taken into account.

In the UK we have seen a decline in views of  government effectiveness since 2004. There have also been sharp changes in voice, accountability and political stability between 2002 and 2006.

fig5The last factor cited in the survey – ‘absence of violence and terrorism’ – has taken on new relevance following the three terrorist attacks that happened in Manchester and London during the election campaign. Hopefully more analysis will be carried out to fully understand its exact impact, but it certainly created an unprecedented context in which people cast their votes.

2. Being seen and heard matters. The European Social Survey suggests that two conditions affect our perceived satisfaction with society: unemployment levels and ‘perceived quality of society and societal wellbeing’, which includes things like quality of public services and feeling listened to.

We’ve seen high employment in the UK, and arguably this has cushioned the UK from the wellbeing impacts of the financial crisis. But  many clearly “feel more acutely that their interests and opinion are not being taken into account.” We can see that the financial crisis recovery didn’t reach everyone.

Additionally, the strength of our social fabric gives countries resilience and there are additional wellbeing benefits when a country’s strong social relations can help them weather crises. An interesting example is Iceland.

3. Wellbeing, and wellbeing inequality, can tell us more of the real story than income and political voting records alone when it comes to the mood of the country, or any given area. It was the an important indicator, for example, of how different regions voted in the EU Referendum.

It would be interesting to see more analysis at a constituency level before drawing too many specific conclusions. However, it’s an exciting time to be in the midst of a new way of measuring and understanding what really matters to people – which is all wellbeing really is about.

We already know, from research carried out by our evidence team at the London School of Economics, that when average wellbeing drops, an incumbent government is more likely to be booted out. When it rises, this has little effect on voting patterns. We can see that average national wellbeing rose between 2011 and 2015, and then levelled off in 2016, and we’re left with tantalising questions about its relationship to our current hung parliament.The election raises important issues for our Centre. The changing world of work, how people view their public services, social trust are just some of the elements that are shifting the balance of politics as usual. We need to keep working to understand what it means to be human and what matters to us most.

We must focus our collective efforts on creating the conditions to improve our wellbeing. This means:  

  • policy that values what matters to people including dignity, control, trust and place
  • a focus on societal advancement with human beings at the centre and the purpose of the wellbeing of future generations.  

These problems can’t be solved by government, business or charities alone. New types of collaboration are needed. This is what we aim to achieve as a collaborating centre at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. And we’re looking forward to sharing new evidence over the coming months that will help policymakers and practitioners make better decisions to improve people’s lives.

A budget to increase wellbeing in the UK? #Budget2017

The purpose of our economic growth is to improve the quality of life and prosperity of people in the UK.  This budget has some potential wellbeing gains, but also misses some opportunities which we set out  yesterday. 

The Chancellor’s focus on opportunity through learning and training is backed by the research: evidence shows that continuing to learn throughout life is not only useful for developing skills and improving job prospects, it can improve and maintain our mental wellbeing. Unemployment has a bigger impact on our wellbeing than loss of earnings and it will be interesting to see what difference the support for returning to work makes to wellbeing of those out of the labour market in caring roles where evidence is currently missing. Likewise, the Living wage increase should see wellbeing impacts as the wellbeing impact of increased income is  greater for lower paid than better off, pound for pound.

What this budget does miss is mental health which has the biggest impact on our satisfaction with life – this is important enough that it deserves special mention.

Nancy Hey, Director, What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Work

Unemployment is always damaging to wellbeing. Men tend to suffer more from unemployment, however new evidence suggests women who are committed to their careers suffer more than men. Return to work is good for wellbeing but it has to be good work

Sara Connolly, Professor of Economics at the University of East Anglia. Work, Learning and Wellbeing Programme.

  • £5m for return to work schemes positive for wellbeing. Extended breaks in employment, especially when they are unplanned, have a significant and scarring effect on wellbeing.The support for working parents and return to work schemes could be particularly powerful for certain groups for whom wellbeing is lower. But there is no evidence yet about how the transition into and out of caring roles impacts wellbeing. Research in this area would fill an evidence gap.
  • Business rate changes help local employers. Support of small and medium local businesses through the Business Rates measures could have a positive impact on wellbeing – employees of smaller businesses tend to have higher life satisfaction than those from larger employers.
  • Self-employed are a diverse group.  Some evidence suggests that the self-employed in the UK have higher wellbeing, but one study suggest that the benefits of self-employment are limited to the better off [1] and those in temporary jobs have lower wellbeing. Flexible work is good, but lack of control in work is bad for wellbeing.

Tax changes for female self-employed might discourage women from re-entering or entering the workforce and lower wellbeing. The changes could also have negative wellbeing impacts for learners who are working self-employed to finance part time study.”

Kevin Daniels, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the University of East Anglia. Lead investigator of Work, Learning and Wellbeing Programme.

Learning and Training

  • The Department for Education will pilot different approaches to encouraging lifelong learning. Evidence shows that continuing to learn throughout life is not only useful for developing skills and improving job prospects; it can improve and maintain our mental wellbeing.  The investment of £40m to pilot different approaches to test what works for different approaches to lifelong learning is a sign that better evidence is key to making better decisions for our quality of life.  
  • Changes to training has the potential to re-balance wellbeing gains for different groups. Currently, lower level and technical qualifications result in lower financial and wellbeing returns than hIgher education qualifications.

Will Vocational Education and Training shakeup convince employers that qualifications have value? If not could be bad for wellbeing of learners. Government investing in VET training will only be good news if young workers can find good quality jobs to put skills to use”

Olga Tregaskis, Professor of International Human Resource Management at the University of East Anglia. Work, Learning and Wellbeing Programme.

  • Education for wellbeing is missing. The most recent Good Childhood Report shows us that girls aged 10-15 are less happy than they used to be. Last year’s report showed us that England ranked 14 out of 15 selected countries for wellbeing at school. This matters for the current lives of these children but also for their future – self-control, perseverance, the capacity to delay gratification, and the ability to cope with shocks are strong predictors of adult wellbeing. A wellbeing budget would focus as much attention on building social and emotional skills as on educational attainment. Which will help with productivity in the long run – we know that increasing wellbeing in children improves exam results, future wellbeing and future earnings.

Community Wellbeing

  • Community assets matter. Local pubs, key hubs for community activities, will benefit from tax breaks, and it would be good if more social spaces – libraries, cafes, and other bumping spaces – could also benefit. Children and people from some demographic groups are less likely to access pubs. There was also no formal valuation of common assets – green spaces, shared community resources, heritage buildings – despite evidence that these are important for community wellbeing.
  • Volunteering and giving. There were no announcements on related issues that could help develop community wellbeing – measures, for example, to encourage volunteering and community groups.
  • Quality of relationships. Good partner relationships are second most important factor in our adult wellbeing, so £20m investment in measures to help women escape violent partners and rebuild their lives are welcome. These programmes speak to early years and the stability of positive parenting – protecting women is protecting children (a shocking 200 children are bereaved each year in the UK by men killing their mothers).  The quality of a parental relationship affects the wellbeing of their children and its violent conflict that is the most harmful.

The budget has missed the major opportunities to increase wellbeing: no large roll-out of preventions of mental illness amongst children, no large initiatives in mental health treatment, where mental health problems are a major cause of low wellbeing; no push for flatter and more trusting organisations and ways of delivering services; no strong push against inequality; no moves to push for more pedestrian zones, jobs near homes, cheaper housing, forced parental leave, or increased mandatory holidays, all of which are moves towards more contented lives that put more value on relations.

Paul Frijters, Professor of Economics at LSE and lead investigator of the Cross-Cutting Wellbeing Programme.

Health and Social Care

Policy that values what matters people prioritises dignity and respect.

  • Potential to improve work conditions in the sector. There are not two cultures in the workplace: how you treat staff is how patients will be treated. The quality of care has often come under scrutiny and many working in care homes are unskilled and hold few formal qualifications. The investment of an additional £2bn for social care packages in England over the next three years opens a window of opportunity if directed toward upskilling in this area.  and thus has a positive impact on those who are currently low skilled working in this area. Forthcoming Centre evidence show the wellbeing and productivity gains possible in this sector, through well designed training.
  • Dedicated mental health provision missing. The Budget did not set out any dedicated investment in addressing the increasing demand for interventions that improve mental health. Early years investment in mental health is key to ensuring wellbeing across the life course, so preventative measures and treatments should be supported.

The Chancellor’s announcement of an extra two billion pounds for adult social care is welcome, obviously. All serious commentators realise that there is a crisis in social care and that this puts huge pressures on the already struggling NHS as well as causing massive personal distress. And investment in social care is probably a very wise priority. We need to welcome this investment, but remember that social care, health care and, perhaps particularly, mental health care, are all crucial elements of central government support for wellbeing.

Peter Kinderman, President of the British Psychological Society, and lead investigator on the Community Wellbeing programme.

Overall economy

The OBR have upgraded their growth forecast from 1.4% to 2% for next year. The level of national income has surprisingly little effect on wellbeing, as long as it does not go down.

Most importantly, the government is not announcing that it will seriously start to experiment with ways to increase wellbeing at all levels of government: no major experiments in teaching, health, the organisation of the civil service, housing, policing, etc. So we are not preparing to learn what works and what we can thus roll out in the future

Paul Frijters,  Professor of Economics at LSE and lead investigator of the Cross-Cutting Wellbeing Programme.

REFERENCES

[1] Blanchflower and Oswald (1998) find a robust positive effect of self-employment using UK data. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (1998). What makes an Entrepreneur? Journal of Labor Economics, 16(1), 26–60.

Alesina et al. (2004) find that the positive effect of self-employment is limited to the rich.

Alesina, A., Di Tella, R., & MacCulloch, R. (2004). Inequality and happiness: Are Europeans and Americans different? Journal of Public Economics, 88, 2009–2042.

What can we learn from £40M invested into wellbeing?

ewanprofile

Here, the Centre’s Ewan Davison takes a look at the Big Lottery Fund’s Wellbeing 2 programme and evaluation.

Following the recent publication of the Wellbeing 2 final evaluation we’ve gathered an overview of the programme, links to evaluations and a series of case studies together as a learning resource 

Wellbeing 2 followed the £160m Wellbeing funding, continuing to support communities to create healthier lifestyles and improve their wellbeing. It funded interventions to improve levels of healthy eating, activity and mental health. But wellbeing is much wider than one particular aspect or determinant, it means a lot of different things to different people – as we’ve learnt from talking to people across the UK about what matters to them. At a high level it’s their quality of life. So, improving quality of our lives and our wellbeing should be the ultimate aim of policy.

blfwellbeing-infographic600px-apr16-final

A really encouraging part of this study was the use of personal wellbeing as a measure; simply put it was asking individuals how they feel using the ONS 4 wellbeing questions. Across the Wellbeing 2 portfolios adults reported an increase in their levels of life satisfaction from 6.2 (on a scale of 0-10) at the start of the interventions to 6.5 at the end to 7.0 at three months post intervention. Life satisfaction is a key measure for wellbeing. There were also positive change reported in feelings of being worthwhile, happiness and anxiety levels. For example: 54% of young people reported a positive change in their mental wellbeing.

For those of us interested in policy, the wellbeing 2 evaluation report is important. We need to look beyond the numbers to try and identify what works, and what doesn’t in delivery and measurement. The report shares a real wealth of qualitative data, insights from projects on what worked across delivery, promoting behavior change, achieving systems change and sustainability.

The key points to take away from it are:

  • The importance of ensuring engagement in design and delivery (such as using peer educators).
  • Taking asset-based approaches which work with local settings.
  • Developing the skills of staff and partners along with volunteers.
  • For some portfolios, working with local systems to enable sustainability and change to those systems, such as basing staff in local authorities and working with authorities (and communities) to meet outcomes identified in their Joint Strategic Needs Assessments.

The importance of time when evaluating

Another key finding from this report and the follow up round table was that time is a very important factor (perhaps a luxury which this funding has allowed). It enables a test, learn, and adapt approach in delivery and in terms of measuring impact. Policy makers need to make time to engage people in the design of delivery and evaluation to keep activities relevant and effective.

There is some great work going on out there (as shown by this report) and as a nation we’re spending a lot of money and effort on activity so we need to learn from it collectively and in a systematic way. We need to measure with enough consistency to enable a meaningful comparison across interventions which looks at impact and cost, and reflects the strength of evidence. We can also use existing activities and management data to make running trials easier and cheaper, which in turn make the research findings more useful to practice and decision making.

We all need to get better at capturing learning on wellbeing impacts and growing the evidence base. This is the start.

What are your issues with evaluating wellbeing? With wellbeing impact often being a secondary outcome- or not the primary focus of funding a project – how can we create a measurement instrument sensitive enough to capture changes without becoming overwhelming  or a burden to providers/participants? → Join our forum to discuss

overview of the Wellbeing 2 programme, links to evaluations case studies 

Full evaluation on Wellbeing 2 along with  Big Blog

 

 

NEW 5 years of personal wellbeing data from ONS

Since 2011, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has asked personal wellbeing questions to adults in the UK, to better understand how they feel about their lives.

Today they have released the fifth annual Personal Well-being dataset, as part of the Measuring National Well-being programme. Accompanying this is a report which presents headline results (local authority breakdowns will be published in early autumn 2016) for the year ending March 2016, together with how things have changed over the five years of collecting this information.

It finds that:

  • reported personal well-being has improved across each of the measures over the 5 year period between the years ending March 2012 and 2016
  • there has been no improvement in ratings of happiness, anxiety and feeling that things in life are worthwhile over the 1 year period between the years ending March 2015 and 2016
  • those living in London reported lower average ratings of life satisfaction, anxiety and feeling things in life are worthwhile compared with UK overall
  • people in Northern Ireland continue to give higher average ratings of personal well-being for all measures except anxiety, when compared with the other UK countries
  • although women reported higher life satisfaction and worthwhile levels when compared with men, they also reported higher levels of anxietyWell-being-01 (1)

Personal well-being in the UK: 2015 to 2016

→Have your say: ONS would value feedback on how this information is shared:

Usually, we release our annual dataset in September. However, this year, for the first time, we have brought this forward to July. We have also given our reference tables a new look, and the statistical bulletin is written in a new style that is more concise than previous years. We are really interested to know what you think of this.

→Please get in touch and give us your feedback at qualityoflife@ons.gov.uk

Social Capital across the UK

Last week the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a report on Social Capital across the UK which looked at 5 measures of how people feel about their neighbourhood.

It highlighted that personal characteristics such as age, ethnicity and socio-economic background all have a role to play in explaining differences that exist between regions, urban and rural areas.

 Here, Dr Veronique Siegler, Senior Research Officer at  ONS,  leading the project on Social Capital since 2014, as part of the ONS programme of work on Wellbeing shares some insights from the project:

Our research shows that for the UK as a whole, the majority of people felt positively about their neighbourhood (Source: Understanding Society, 2011/12). However, marked differences were observed, depending on where people live. Exploring these differences is important to understanding how to build strong relationships in communities which in turn delivers well-being and economic benefits.ONS Wellbeing blog 1

We found that people living in rural areas were more likely to feel positively about their neighbourhood than those in urban areas. For example, around 78% of people living in rural areas trusted people in their neighbourhood compared to 61% of people living in urban areas.

ONS Wellbeing blog 2There were also differences across the English regions and countries of the UK. Northern Ireland had the highest proportion  and London the lowest proportion of people feeling that they belong to their neighbourhood (73% versus 59%) , that others around their local area are willing to help their neighbours (80% versus 65%), that most people in their neighbourhood can be trusted (73% versus 56%).

Our research highlights that characteristics such as age, ethnicity and socio-economic status all have a role in explaining the differences in how people in the UK feel about their neighbourhood.

  • Older people were more likely to feel positively about their neighbourhood than younger people
  • People who identified as White were more likely to feel positively about their neighbourhood than people from all other ethnic groups as a whole in terms of having trust in others in their neighbourhood, feeling a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood and feeling others in their local area were willing to help neighbours

At an individual level, people’s views about their neighbourhood varied with their economic activity. Trust in others in their neighbourhood was highest amongst the retired (79%) and the self-employed (70%) but lowest among the unemployed (43%). We also found that people employed in higher managerial occupations were more likely to trust people in their neighbourhood (73%) than people in routine occupations (54%).ONS Wellbeing 3

We also looked at the impact of people feeling similar to others in their neighbourhood can have on how people feel about others. Not feeling similar could indicate a lack of bridging social capital, or connections between groups of different backgrounds. Around 6 in 10 people (61%) reported feeling similar to others in their neighbourhood, amongst which three-quarters of them (76%) felt they could trust others in their neighbourhood. In comparison, around 14% of people did not feel similar to others in their neighbourhood, amongst which 38% felt they could trust others in their neighbourhood.

The State of Social Capital in Britain: Policy briefing

→Full ONS report on Social Capital across the UK

→Discuss on our forum 

 

 

New Systematic Review of Resilience Training in the Workplace

You may well have undergone resilience training at work which could take many forms. But how do we know which interventions are effective? How do we know what works?

A new systematic review – reviewing the review literature – sets out to start and answer these questions.

Here, one of the authors of the review Mustafa Sarkar @mussarkar sets out the findings:


resilience 1

Resilience refers to the capacity of individuals to withstand – and even thrive on – the pressure and stress they experience in their lives (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2013) and resilience training programmes aim to equip individuals with resources and skills to prevent the potential negative effects of pressure and stress. The emphasis on building resilience in the workplace has been at least partially due to the period of global recession and subsequent austerity (Robertson & Cooper, 2013). People in the workplace have heavier workloads now and are working under enormous pressure as we enter the ‘getting more from less era’ (CIPD, 2009). The need for personal resilience in the workplace, therefore, has never been greater.

With a view to determining the effectiveness of resilience training in this context, we (Robertson, Cooper, Sarkar, & Curran, 2015) recently conducted a systematic review of work-based resilience training interventions. After applying rigorous criteria,  14 studies were considered robust enough to draw conclusions from. The 14 studies included programmes varying in length from single 90 minute sessions to workshops run over 12 weeks, and from online programmes to 2½ day retreats and group workshops supported with 1:1 coaching. Moreover, they included approaches based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), coaching-related principles, mindfulness- and compassion-based practices, and interestingly,  two programmes used technology in the form of emWave biofeedback machines to help individuals self-manage their own stress.

resilience 6

In order to determine the effectiveness of these resilience training programmes, we evaluated their effects on various outcomes including  personal resilience, mental health and wellbeing, physical health, psychosocial functioning, and performance.

The findings provided some indication that resilience training for employees may have beneficial effects with 12 out of the 14 studies showing positive and significant changes as a result of resilience training. This was especially the case for mental health and wellbeing outcomes such as stress, depression, anxiety, and negative mood/affect/emotion, which appeared particularly sensitive to resilience intervention. There was also an indication, across the studies, that personal resilience may be improved following resilience training (as would be expected) and it was also found that resilience training had a number of wider benefits that included enhanced psychosocial functioning (e.g., increased self-efficacy, work satisfaction, social skills) and improved performance (e.g., goal attainment, productivity, observed behavioural performance). However, due to the limited evidence (i.e., shortage of studies) and small sample sizes, it is worth noting that the results available permit only tentative conclusions. Similarly, the evidence is too limited to determine the most effective type of intervention. Indeed, at this stage, there is no definitive evidence for the most effective training content or format, but the results do suggest that it may be wise to include an element of one-to-one support based on individual needs in any resilience training programme.

In conclusion, this systematic review is the first step in identifying the impact of resilience training in the workplace and provides initial evidence of the impact of resilience training on personal resilience, mental health and wellbeing, and performance. However, more work-based studies in this area are required to better enable us to determine which particular aspects of resilience training are most effective.

Reference

Robertson, I., Cooper, C. L., Sarkar, M., & Curran, T. (2015). Resilience training in the workplace from 2003-2014: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88, 533-562.


 

→ The World Economic Forum: Global Agenda Council has launched:                                             Seven Steps Guide towards a Mentally Healthy Organisation as part of World Bank/WHO Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority 

→Our Chair’s blog: Out of the shadows – World Bank & World Health Organisation on Mental Health

→We are currently running a Work & Learning Call for Evidence on job quality

So what works in getting research used in decision-making?

We all want our work to be useful, and there have been many studies asking policy makers and other stakeholders what the barriers and facilitators are to using research.

But how confident are we that our favourite approaches actually work?  What is the science of using science knowledge? And do we know what works in getting research used in making policy ?  

We have partnered with the Wellcome Trust,  the Alliance for Useful Evidence and the EPPI-Centre at UCL to understand how research evidence can be best used in decision-making.

The study focuses on better development and use of a sound evidence base in government policy, and other decision making. It is intended to develop the evidence base for what we at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing can do to support evidence informed decision making to improve wellbeing.

→ Summary

→Full report

The study identified six types of activity used to support evidence informed decision making and looked at the evidence based that underpins them.  The study team then looked at what other social science research suggests could be promising for supporting evidence informed decision making.

reserach uptake diagram

We are reviewing our plans and theory of change as a result of this study working with the wider What Works Network some of whom are doing trials in this area.  We hope that these insights prove useful more widely and add to the evidence base in the field. 

This project included:

  • a systematic review (a review of reviews) of the field of research use by the EPPI-Centre
  • A scoping review of what the wider social science literature tells us about the mechanisms for the use of research evidence in decision-making by the EPPI-Centre
  • a summary policy report summarising the key findings with discussion and case studies by the Alliance for Useful Evidence
  • a conference to explore what approaches work in enabling the use of research by policy makers, practitioners and members of the public at Wellcome Trust on 12th April 2016