Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Happy Days?

The latest Office for National Statistics report on personal well-being in the UK appeared recently*. It again shows a slight rise in ‘average national happiness’, with life satisfaction reaching 7.6 on a 0 to 10 scale. So should we all be dancing in the streets? Well, not just yet I suggest.

There is a dark cloud behind the silver lining: the proportion of people reporting low levels of well-being has reduced, but not as much as the proportion reporting high levels has grown. In other words, within the overall increase there is increasing polarisation between the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’. Two regions – the North-East and Yorkshire & Humber – show no significant reduction in people with low levels of well-being.

I’m encouraged to see ONS increasingly exploring these and other variations. As well as geographic areas, figures are broken down by gender, age, ethnicity, health and several other factors. New analysis this year on tenure (owner-occupied, rented, etc.) shows owner-occupiers with higher life-satisfaction than those in rented accommodation, and those in social housing lowest of all. However, I’m not sure there’s a cause-effect link here, since social renters on average have poorer health and health has a huge influence on life satisfaction.

The overall rise is attributed to the economy and the gradual fall in unemployment. Several studies prove that the effects of unemployment are psychological as well as financial, and it’s interesting that the North-East and Yorkshire & Humber are also the two UK regions with the highest unemployment rate.

I’m OK with all of this, but information is useless unless you do something with it. A polarised society is potentially a dangerous one, and addressing these inequalities must therefore be a high priority. The Northern Powerhouse and regional devolution need to be more than just political rhetoric to make a difference.

That’s why – just as an example – I’m irritated by a new government digital initiative: Job Hack**. The idea is to generate creative ideas and new ways for technology to assist employment. But where’s it being hosted? London – aarrgghhh! NO!! Base this sort of thing in the North, and if people struggle to get there, then that’s exactly the problem you need to solve!

So, the data is there, but I’m not yet convinced that Westminster has the political will to really make a difference to everyone in our society.

*The full report is at
** Full details here: