UK considers factors for a national well-being index

  • 25 July 2011
  • From the section UK
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Child's crayon drawing of smiling people
Image caption Connections with friends and family can contribute to an individual's well-being, the survey found

People in the UK believe their well-being should be measured in terms of health, friends and family and job satisfaction, according to a report.

The Office for National Statistics launched a five-month debate on the question, what matters to you?

More than 34,000 people gave their views, which will help statisticians create the UK's first set of national well-being indicators by the autumn.

It is hoped the "happiness index" will complement other measures such as GDP.

Understanding society

The ONS said common themes to emerge from the debate were health, good connections with friends and family, job satisfaction and economic security, present and future conditions of the environment, and education and training.

The findings of the debate, which began last November and took in responses online and through 175 events across the country, should help inform the ONS as it develops national well-being indicators.

National statistician Jil Matheson said these would need to be "reliable and impartial and improve our understanding of the UK's society".

She said the response to the debate had been "huge and thoughtful".

"However, this is not just about holding a debate it is about finding robust ways to measure how society is doing, to complement GDP and other measures of economic growth.

"As we work up measures of national well-being and progress, we will continue to share our ideas."

She said the UK was not alone in wanting to develop better measures of national well-being.

"We are working with international partners in developing measures of well-being that will paint a fuller picture of our societies."

Aileen Simpkins, who is working on the ONS's national well-being programme, said people had told them health, relationships and job satisfaction mattered most to their well-being.

But other factors which played a part included how we connect up as part of a society, she told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

"So our sense of national well-being, it's got to include equality, it's got to look at the distribution of good and bad experiences between different groups of people and it's got to look at sustainability... and there's also something about locality - things that you can find out about local areas, like access to green spaces and the sense of community cohesion."

Happiness and anxiety

Since April, the ONS has also been asking about 200,000 people to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of zero to 10.

Other questions are around their levels of happiness, anxiety, and how worthwhile things they do in life are.

The first annual results will be available in July 2012.

Ms Simpkins said these results would show how feelings of happiness and anxiety differed between groups such as the young and old, the employed and the unemployed.

"There's clearly an appetite in the government to have access to that kind of information and start using it in developing policies and testing policies to see what sort of impact things really have," she said.

Prime Minister David Cameron, launched the plan for a "happiness index" last year, insisting it was not "woolly".

He said economic growth remained the most "urgent priority" but he wanted a better measure of how the country was doing than GDP.

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