UK Wellbeing measures


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UK WellBeing Indicators: Cross-Government work coordinated by Defra


The UK Government Sustainable Development Strategy (2005) gave a commitment to explore how policies might change with an explicit wellbeing focus. It further gave a commitment to develop wellbeing indicators.Two cross-departmental groups were established, the Whitehall Wellbeing Working Group (W3G – not currently active) and the Wellbeing Indicators Group (WIG). Research was commissioned by Defra for W3G and a first set of Government wellbeing measures was published in 2007 (see below).Defra statisticians have continued to oversee work on wellbeing measures and will be working with the Office for National Statistics to develop this further.Defra is also considering the Government Economic Service’s Review of the Economics of Sustainable Development, the Stiglitz Commission, the EU Commission’s communication on ‘GDP and Beyond’, and the OECD’s ‘Measuring Progress’, with the view to revising, as appropriate, the approach to sustainable development, wellbeing and indicators. However, initial consideration suggests that much of the UK’s approach is consistent with and sometimes ahead of these international initiatives.


The Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) in Defra commissioned independent research from a number of organizations to investigate the links between environment, wellbeing and sustainable development and what would be the implications for policy. The key issues of the four projects related to the drivers of wellbeing; measurement issues; international themes; and the links between sustainable development and wellbeing (a synthesis of the findings can be found at:

These covered:

  • Influences on personal wellbeing and its application to policy making (Sheffield University Centre for Wellbeing in Public Policy), reviews the evidence on what factors influence wellbeing; considers how these might vary according to different definitions of wellbeing; and the policy significance of these
  • Relationship between sustainable development and wellbeing, looks at evidence on the relationship between wellbeing and sustainable development and how a wellbeing focus in policy might conflict with or support sustainable development; how wellbeing is best conceptualised in sustainable development policy contexts; and how a wellbeing focus might facilitate sustainable development policy
  • Sustainable development and wellbeing: relationships, challenges and policy implications (New Economics Foundation)
  • Wellbeing: international policy interventions (Levett-Therivel Sustainability Consultants)

WellBeing Indicators

The wellbeing measures developed by Defra statisticians and WIG were first published in 2007 as part of the UK Government Sustainable Development Indicators (see separate briefing on results). They consist of both objective and subjective measures and include:

  • Life satisfaction
  • Positive and negative feelings
  • Engagement and participation
  • Child wellbeing
  • Poverty
  • Health
  • Education
  • Equality measures

Defra statisticians have included a life satisfaction question in two national surveys and have been encouraging other Government Departments to do the same. There are now or have been life satisfaction or happiness questions in the following surveys:

  • Defra - Public Attitudes and Behaviours Survey
  • CLG - Citizenship Survey
  • DCMS - Taking Part Survey
  • Home Office - British Crime Survey
  • DH – Healthy foundations life-stage research
  • Met. Police Authority – Attitudes Survey

Defra statisticians will be now working in partnership with the Office for National Statistics in a project on measuring societal progress, which will include further examination of life satisfaction questions and other measures of wellbeing. Analysis is currently in progress on results from Defra’s 2009 survey to explore the relationship between life satisfaction and other aspects of life, including income, socio-economic class, and attitudes. The analysis is also focusing on factors related to dissatisfaction.

Selected UK WellBeing Indicators 

See the full list of indicators at the end of this document. For more information see Sustainable development indicators in your pocket 2009 (Indicator No. 68) at 

Key findings from indicators include:

  • There has been little change in overall life satisfaction between 2007 and 2009 (the latter survey was undertaken in the Spring)
  • There is variation in overall life satisfaction across socio-economic classes, with the lower classes tending to declare a lower life-satisfaction rating.
  • There is variation in satisfaction with selected aspects of life across socio-economic classes. In most instances, fewer people in the lower socio-economic classes say they are satisfied.

Overall life satisfaction
Percentage of people reporting overall life satisfaction ratings, on a scale from 0 to 10, 2007 to 2009
68 a.gif
In 2009, when people were asked to rate their satisfaction with their lives, by using a scale from 0 – 10 (with 0 meaning very dissatisfied and 10 very satisfied), the average overall life satisfaction rating for England was 7.4 out of 10. This is very close to the value of 7.5 in 2008 and 7.3 in 2007.

Twenty-nine per cent of people rated their overall life satisfaction as 9 or 10 out of 10 in 2009, compared with 30 per cent in 2008 and 25 per cent in 2007. Whilst overall there is little variation in the life satisfaction over time, there is variation across socio-economic class (see below). Overall life satisfaction, by socio-economic class,  Percentage of people reporting overall life satisfaction ratings, on a scale from 0 to 10, 2007 to 2009.

 68 b new.gif

In 2009, for the combined social grades ‘A’ and ‘B’ (hitherto referred to as group AB, e.g. A: doctors, solicitors, accountants and B: teachers, nurses, police officers), making up 22 per cent of the population, the average rating was 7.6. For those in group D (manual works, shop workers, apprentices) and group E (casual labourers, state pensioners and the unemployed), making up 40 per cent of the population, the overall average rating was 7.0.

The proportions of those in group E rating themselves as 0 (which could be interpreted as extremely dissatisfied), whilst a low proportion (about 1 per cent), was about four times higher than for other groups, and the proportion rating themselves as 7 or higher (broadly interpreted as satisfied) were lower than for other groups – 63 per cent respectively compared with 79 per cent of those in group AB.

Overall satisfaction with selected aspects of life
Percentage of people fairly or very satisfied with selected aspects of life, 2007
68 c.gif

In 2007, when asked what are the most important things affecting their lives (not shown), without prompting the most common responses people gave were ‘Being able to spend time with friends and family’, mentioned by 44 per cent of people, ‘Health’, 31 per cent, ‘Personal relationships’, 23 per cent, ‘Work life’, ‘study’ and / or ‘Day to day activities’, 20 per cent and ‘Standard of living’ or ‘Money’, 13 per cent (all not shown).

Overall, when prompted in 2009, the highest proportions of people said that they were fairly or very satisfied with their ‘relationships’ or their ‘accommodation’, with over 85 per cent of people fairly or very satisfied with these aspects of their life.

Fewest people were fairly or very satisfied with their ‘future financial security’ and with ‘feeling part of a community’, with less than 65 per cent being fairly or very satisfied with these aspects.

Satisfaction with aspects of life, by socio-economic class
Difference from the overall average for the percentage of people fairly or very satisfied with selected aspects of life, by social class, 2007

68 d.gif
Using a social group classification, within social group E (e.g. casual labourers, state pensioners, unemployed) proportionately fewer people were fairly or very satisfied with almost all of the selected aspects of life, compared with other social grades.

For ‘standard of living’, ‘day to day activities’, ‘health’, ‘achievement of goals’ and ‘future financial security’, the proportions of people in group E who were fairly or very satisfied were at least 10 percentage points below the overall average.

For most aspects of life the proportions of people in group AB (e.g. doctors, solicitors, accountants and teachers, nurses, police officers) who were fairly or very satisfied were higher than in all other groups. The exceptions were for ‘day to day activities’, for which a higher proportion of people in group D (e.g. manual workers, shop workers, apprentices) were fairly or very satisfied and for ‘feeling part of the community’ for which proportions fairly or very satisfied in both groups D and E were higher. Sixty-nine per cent of those in group D and 65 per cent of those in group E were fairly or very satisfied with ‘feeling part of the community’, compared with 57 per cent of those in group AB.
In terms of dissatisfaction (not shown on graphs) the highest proportions of people were dissatisfied with their ‘future financial security’, ‘feeling part of a community’ or their ‘health’ - with over 10 per cent of people fairly or very dissatisfied with these aspects of their life.

A greater proportion of people in group E expressed dissatisfaction with all aspects of life compared with other social grades. This was particularly marked for ‘future financial security’ and ‘health’. Although group E showed a comparatively high proportion of people being satisfied with ‘feeling part of their community’, group E also showed the highest proportion, 18 per cent, who were dissatisfied.

Other Analysis

Early analysis of the published data from Defra’s 2009 Survey suggests:

  • There is a strong relationship between income and overall life satisfaction
  • There is some variation across regions in terms of the overall life satisfaction score. With East of England, London and the North West below the average for England.
  • There are relationships between environment attributes including access to green space and volunteering

Full List of UK WellBeing Measures

Those measures that are numbered are existing sustainable development indicators, along with any related supplementary wellbeing measures.

39. Fear of crime

  •  Perceptions of anti-social behaviour

41. Workless households
43. Childhood poverty
45. Pensioner poverty
47. Education
50. Healthy life expectancy

  • Self-reported general health
  • Self-reported long-standing illness

51. Mortality rates (suicide)

  • Mortality rates for those with severe mental illness

57. Accessibility
59. Social justice
60. Environmental equality
62. Housing conditions
66. Satisfaction with local area

  • Trust in people in neighbourhood
  • Influencing local and national decisions

68. Wellbeing

  • Overall life satisfaction
  • Overall life satisfaction aspects of life
  • Positive and negative feelings
  • Engagement in positive activities
  • Child Wellbeing:   Local environment ; Positive and negative feelings ; Feelings of safety ; Health and physical activity ; Bullying
  • Physical activity
  • Green space
  • Cultural participation
  • Positive mental health

See also



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