UK population has low life satisfaction and is more anxious, suggests new ONS data

Exploring UK quality of life, the Office of National Statistics wellbeing report reveals increases in economic inactivity, low life satisfaction with financial pressures contributing to poor wellbeing.

People walking in London in the early evening

The Measuring Progress, Wellbeing and Beyond GDP in the UK report aims to provide a holistic view on how society is doing – beyond purely economic measures. The report draws on the latest economic, environmental and social statistics.

According to the report, published this week, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) concluded that the percentage of people reporting low satisfaction with their lives in the UK, has increased to 5.8% in the five years to October to December 2023 – which translates to one in seventeen people in the UK showing signs of low life satisfaction. The data shows this has increased from the same period five years ago (4.4% in October to December 2018).

The report also indicated that 23.5% of respondents to the ONS’ Annual Population Survey said they felt high levels of anxiety in the final quarter of last year. This is down from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic high of 25.2% in October to December 2020, but it is still above the estimates of the same period five years ago at 20.0%.

The report went on to show that the higher levels of inflation has put pressure on household finances, with 21.8% of people finding it fairly or very difficult to get by financially. Financial pressures were cited as having the third biggest impact on people’s wellbeing, after the welfare of family members and personal physical or mental health issues.

The number of working-age people in the UK who are neither employed nor looking for a job has risen again in the three months to February 2024. Levels of economic inactivity in the UK has increased, over the last quarter, and year, to 9.4 million (22.2%) adults aged 16 to 64 years, in December 2023 to February 2024, with long-term sickness the most common reason.

Fewer people are spending enough time outside to gain the health benefits of being in nature, said the ONS. Of adults in England, 68.4% visited green and natural spaces in their free time in the previous 14 days in September 2023. In 2022, 1.1 million fewer individuals gained health benefits from nature than in 2020 because they either did not visit often enough or for long enough. The value of those lost health benefits was estimated at around £390 million, equivalent to £356 per person on average. Poor air quality is recognised as the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, as stated in Public Health England’s air pollution guidance. In 2018, Public Health England estimated the total cost of air pollution, to the NHS and social care in England, to be £1.69 billion between 2017 and 2025.

The next Measuring progress, well-being and beyond GDP bulletin is expected to be published on 14 August 2024.