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Grass roots opinion can help to create a better life for us all

Released: 28 February 2012 Download PDF

Listening to people and hearing their views on what matters to them is central to the Office for National Statistics’ ambitious programme to measure national well-being. ONS today publishes an update on the programme.

Between October 2011 and January 2012, ONS ran a public consultation about initial proposals of domains and headline measures of national well-being. Nearly 1,800 people or organisations responded to the consultation, and initial findings have been published. The consultation has shown that there is broad support for the domains and headline measures of national well-being initially proposed, with several common themes for additions and changes.

Since April 2011, ONS has also been asking people to provide an assessment of their own well-being in its household surveys.

The ONS measurement programme is key to giving people a say in the areas affecting their lives – in health, employment, crime, education and skills. By asking people how they feel about these areas and adding to the results the objective statistics on, for example, crime rates where they live, then better decisions can be made. Subjective well-being means decision-making can draw on input from the public, through the representative samples covered in ONS surveys.

Support for the ONS well-being measurement work has recently come from the Organisation for Economic, Cooperation and Development the Secretary General of which, Angel Gurria, said: “The current economic crisis has shown that it is essential to make well-being a central criteria for determining policies.” He added that in making policy citizens of a country had to be consulted about what matters most in their life in order to add to an agenda of statistical research that would lay the foundation for better statistics tomorrow.

ONS today publishes experimental estimates of subjective well-being from the Annual Population Survey (APS), with results from questions asked during Apr-Sept 2011 reaching over 80,000 adults across the UK.

The four questions asked were:

• Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?

• Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

• Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?

• Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

Overall estimates are based on a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely’. The overall estimates can be broken down by different key characteristics such as age, sex, ethnic group and region or country.

As the programme progresses the questions will be related to the various key policy areas, some of which are mentioned above.

Of the four UK countries, Northern Ireland has the highest score for life satisfaction (7.6 out of 10) compared to 7.5 for Scotland and 7.4 for both England and Wales. Northern Ireland also had the highest scores for the ‘worthwhile’ and ‘happiness yesterday’ questions.

The overall life satisfaction rating for England was 7.4 out of 10. Most English regions did not differ very much from this. However, London and the West Midlands had the lowest average ratings (7.2 out of 10) and the South East and South West had the highest ratings (7.5 out of 10).

Adults living in London reported the highest levels of anxiety in the previous day compared to other regions in England and constituent countries of the UK (3.5 out of 10).

Also published today is an article on ‘Our relationships’, the first in a series which aims to explore in more detail the different domains that have been considered as important for the measurement of National Well-being. It provides an up to date picture of UK society in relation to our relationships, including relationships with friends and family and relationships with community.

Background notes

  1. On 1 December 2011 ONS published the ‘Initial investigation into Subjective Well-being from the Opinions Survey’ report based on a sample of 4,000 adults aged 16 and over. This was the first ONS report analysing ONS data on subjective well-being.
  2. The first experimental ‘dashboard’ of national well-being measures, including annual experimental estimates of subjective well-being derived from the APS, will be published in July 2012.
  3. Experimental statistics are those which are in the testing phase, are not yet fully developed and have not been submitted for assessment to the UK Statistics Authority. They are published to involve users at an early stage in their development.
  4. The Measuring National Well-being programme was launched in November 2010 to provide a fuller understanding of how society is doing than economic measures, such as GDP. It started with a three month national debate on ‘What matters to you?’ to improve understanding of what should be included in measures of the nation’s well-being. Measuring What Matters: National Statistician's Reflections on the National Debate on Measuring National Well-being was published in July 2011.
  5. On 31 October ONS started a consultation on the proposed domains and headline indicators for measuring national well-being. The consultation paper suggests that individual well-being is central to the measurement of national well-being and the estimates published today are an important part of making a full assessment of the nation’s well-being.
  6. ONS was allocated £2m per annum for the four years 2011/12 to 2014/15 from the Spending Review in 2010. This covers all aspects of the measuring national well-being programme, including survey work on individual well-being and the development, presentation and reporting on broader indicators of 'how the UK is doing'.  The measuring national well-being programme covers a wide range of economic, social and environmental statistics.
  7. The programme costs are mainly staff costs working across the full range of the programme. Of the £2m around a quarter each year (ie £500k) is the cost of survey field work, asking the four headline questions on subjective well-being of 200,000 people in the Integrated Household Survey, and asking these and more detailed question modules of 1,000 people a month in the Opinions Survey.
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