Measuring National Well-being: first annual report from the Office for National Statistics


The Measuring National Well-being programme was set up in 2010 with a focused aim, to ‘develop and publish an accepted and trusted set of National Statistics which help people understand and monitor well-being’.

The idea here is that we need to add meaningful economic, social and environmental measures to sit alongside the traditional Gross Domestic Product assessment.

The first annual report of the programme has been published and it contains a real mix of different types of information that seek to provide a richer picture on ‘how society is doing’. Quantitative data on unemployment and crime sits alongside more qualitative data on job satisfaction, attitudes to leisure and fear of crime.

Former Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the initiative, Lord O’Donnell, says that the new report “clearly shows” that a greater emphasis on mental health is justified:

Depression reduces life expectancy as much as smoking. So the NHS should spend much more on mental health.

Key points from the report include:

  • Real household actual income per head in the UK grew from £16,865 to £18,159 between 2002 and 2008, before falling to near 2005 levels in 2011 (£17,862).
  • UK Public Sector Net Debt grew between 32.5% and 42.8% of GDP between 2003 and 2008 before rising to 65.7% in 2011.
  • GDP per head increased during the first part of the millennium, fell by 6.1% between 2007 and 2009, before rising again between 2009 and 2011.
  • There has been a shift from employment to unemployment since the beginning of the recession, with the young being the worst affected. In Jun-Aug 2012 the UK unemployment rate for those aged 16-24 was 20.5% compared with 7.9% for those aged 16 and over.
  • In the 2009/10 in the UK, 12.3% were finding it quite or very difficult to manage financially.
  • In 2011, just over three-quarters (75.9%) of people aged 16 and over in the UK rated their overall life satisfaction at the medium or high level.
  • In the UK in 2009/10, 68.3% were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their health.
  • Healthy life expectancy at birth in 2008-2010 was age 63.5 for males and 65.7 for females, in the UK, increases of 2.8 and 3.3 years respectively since 2000-02.

Readers who get excited by nifty but ultimately meaningless Flash movies may like to check out the National Wellbeing Wheel of Measures, which summarises some of the key statistics in an interactive wheel.

Slightly more useful is the National Wellbeing interactive graph, which lets you compare various criteria (e.g. happiness, anxiety, life satisfaction, unemployment) across the different UK countries and regions.

There is a wealth of information available in the web version of the annual report and it’s supporting annexes, tables and charts. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time if the wind and rain gets too much for you this weekend.


Self A, Thomas J, Randall C. Measuring National Well-being: Life in the UK, 2012 (PDF). Office for National Statistics, 20 Nov 2012.

National Wellbeing Wheel of Measures

National Wellbeing interactive graph

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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