The National Well-being Project

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The UK Measuring National Well-being Programme, led by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), was launched in November 2010. The aim of the programme is to develop ‘an accepted and trusted set of National Statistics which people turn to first to understand and monitor national well-being’ in the UK. The Programme was set up in response to growing demand, both internationally and within the UK, to go beyond measures of economic activity and measure national well-being more widely.

In his speech at the launch of the Programme the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, outlined his ambitions for the UK to “start measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.”

The Measuring National Well-being Programme is engaged with the OECD’s Measuring Progress initiative and with the EU Sponsorship Group on Measuring Progress, Well-being and Sustainable Development. The challenge is to get the right balance between meeting international needs and the need for better statistics on the UK’s national well-being.

Measurements of well-being

The National Debate

Between November 2010 and April 2011 the ONS conducted a national debate in order to find out ‘what matters’ to individuals and also to engage with experts on well-being who would provide insight into what to measure and how to measure it. The debate engaged the general public who not only know best about what matters to them but would also be affected by any policies that would result from this work. The ONS collected over 30,000 responses during the debate which was conducted by holding events across the UK, an online debate and engaging with the public via a variety of social media.

The findings of the debate will help to guide ONS in developing measures of national well-being by addressing questions including  ‘what things in life matter to you?’ and ‘what should be reflected in measures of well-being?’


Subjective well-being

The Commission for the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress recommended that “Statistical offices should incorporate questions to capture people’s life evaluations, hedonic experiences and priorities in their own survey.[1]” In response to this recommendation and recognising the limitations of existing data on subjective well-being in the UK, the ONS, as part of the Programme, introduced four questions to the Integrated Household Survey (IHS) from April 2011. The four questions are:

• Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
• Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
• Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
• Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

Each is measured on a scale from 0 to 10. These questions will be asked of around 200,000 adults (aged 16 and over) each year. The first annual datasets for these questions will be published in July 2012; some information will be published on an interim basis before that. Statistics from these questions will be classed as ‘experimental’ to allow for further refinement and development. The questions will undergo further development and testing throughout the Programme.


National Accounts and Environmental Accounts

A further part of the Programme is to look at other measures of economic well-being, alongside GDP. These measures include:
• household income and consumption
• wealth
• distribution of income and wealth

ONS is also working towards commitments in the UK Government’s Natural Environment White Paper published on 7 June 2011 to ‘fully include natural capital in the UK Environmental Accounts, with early changes by 2013’. Direct reference is made in the White Paper to measures of national well-being reflecting ‘our dependency on the natural environment for the quality of our lives’.

Expected output

The measures of national well-being developed by the programme are expected to include both objective and subjective indicators of individuals’ well-being as well as indicators of equity, sustainability and key drivers of national well-being such as the environment, the economy, governance and culture and heritage.

The measures are expected to be relevant for both the public and to inform government policy development and appraisal. The statistics on well-being presented by the ONS in the future will have been shaped by the public, achieved by the extensive consultation process which has taken place. In policy terms, the public are the end-users and it is they who will feel the impact in their day to day lives and environments.[2]

Statistical Bulletin about Personal Well-being Across the UK in 2012/13

The statistical bulletin released on the 23rd October 2013 highlights the following key points related to assessment of personal well-being across the UK in 2012/13: [3]

  • The average level of personal well-being (life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness) improved from 2011/2012 to 2012/2013.
  • The proportion of population rating their personal well-being as very high or very low fell between 2011/12

and 2012/13, while the proportion rating their well-being rather high (around 7 or 8 out of 10) increased.

  • Northern Ireland had the highest average ratings in 2012/13.
  • The South West and the South East regions of UK also had high levels of average ratings in 2012/13.
  • Reasons behind regional and local differences in personal well-being are not fully understood and to be further studied.

See also

United Kingdom


UK Wellbeing measures

European Network

The Office for National Statistics

ONS Consultation on Well-being Domains and Indicators

UK to measure happiness – media review

Wellbeing Debate – Archive Material

Human Capital in the UK


  2. Miles-Keay, V. (2011). UK Developments in Measuring National Well-being. Office for National Statistics.

External links

Office for National Statistics – Measuring National well-being

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David Cameron Wellbeing Inquiry

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