United Kingdom

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Flag of United_Kingdom
Population (In Millions) 63.70
Human Development Index 26/187
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - World Bank) 2,614.95
Global Peace Index 44/162
Happy Planet Index 41/151
Social Institutions and Gender Index /86
Environmental Performance Index 9/132
Child Mortality Rate 4
More information on variables


History of progress measurement in the United Kingdom

In 2000, for the first time well-being became a political goal recognised by the law. The UK Local Government Act gives regional governments and communities the authority to foster the social, economic and environmental well-being of citizens.[1]

The Prime Minister's Strategy Unit commanded a report in 2002 on "Life Satisfaction: The State of Knowledge and Implications for Government". The policy implications stated by Nick Donovan and David Halpern were that there is a case for state interventions targeting the improvement of life satisfaction as evidence suggests that government activities have direct impacts on levels of life satisfaction. They suggested a number of less controversial and more contested policy implications that can be drawn from current research knowledge. The less controversial include:

  • the use of life satisfaction data to construct quality of life indices
  • to help in marginal policy decision/making
  • to increase options fro democratic involvement
  • to provide better information on the life satisfaction consequences of alternative lifestyle choices
  • to support citizen's volunteering and creation of social capital.

More controversial and contested implications include:

  • a higher priority on the economic development of poorer nations
  • the encouragement of a more leisured work-life balance
  • a more positive appraisal of public spending and progressive taxation.

Main Progress Initiatives

The Scottish Sustainable Development Forum

The Scottish Sustainable Development Forum (SSDF) is a network of sustainable development experts and practitioners across Scotland which focuses on learning from experience, sharing best practice and discussing initiatives. It is funded by the Scottish Government and acts as an advocate for sustainable development and a focal point for thinking and action for a sustainable future.

Scotland Performs

The Scottish Government launched a website called “Scotland Performs” to track Scotland’s progress on a range of social and economic indicators. There are high-level ‘purpose targets’ in seven areas: i) economic growth; ii) productivity; iii) participation; (iv) population; (v) solidarity; (vi) cohesion; and (vii) sustainability. There are also five strategic objectives (wealthier and fairer, safer and stronger, smarter, healthier and greener), and fifteen ‘National Outcomes’. Scotland Performs acts as a live reporting tool to inform the public. The Government does not produce a summary report, nor aggregate the indicators into an index.

National Indicators of Sustainable development

Sustainable development is measured in the UK through a set of 68 national indicators that cover economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development. People's concern over their health, housing, jobs, safety (crime rate), education and the state of the environment are the main components of this National index. Subjective well-being is also taken into account. Comparisons between the different regions of the United Kingdom are made with this index. A new set of indicators are currently under development to support the UK government’s approach to mainstreaming sustainable development, and will be reported upon once they are available. The last report on sustainable development was published in 2010. See here for more information: Measuring progress:Sustainable development indicators 2010

Sustainable Development Commission

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the UK Government's independent adviser on sustainable development.

The National Well-Being Project

Prime Minister, David Cameron recently announced plans to launch the first official happiness index in 2012. This index should “give (…) a general picture of whether life is improving” and eventually this could “lead to government policy that is more focused not just on the bottom line, but on all those things that make life worthwhile”[2]. To meet this goal, the UK Office on National Statistics (ONS) launched a national project on “measuring national well-being”. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is developing new measures of national well-being. The aim is for these new measures to cover quality of life for people in the UK, environmental and sustainability issues, as well as the economic performance of the country. The project envisaged the establishment of online and offline platforms to interact with people and organizations and to raise questions that could help measure the country’s progress. More than 10,000 contributions were made and initial findings from the consultation were published in February 2012; by July 2012, the ONS plans to release an experimental dashboard of well-being indicators, linked to the set of sustainable development indicators produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). To support this initiative, ONS has established an international “advisory board” as well as technical groups.

The Young Foundation

The Young Foundation is a centre for social innovation based in London. It undertakes research to identify and understand unmet social needs and then develops practical initiatives and institutions to address them. It works in diverse fields including health and education, housing and cities.

The New Economics Foundation Centre for well-being

The centre for well-being at the New Economics foundation (NEF) aims to enhance individual and collective well-being in ways that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. Its aim is to promote the concept of well-being as legitimate and useful aim of policy and to provide individuals, communities and organisations with the understanding and tools to redefine wealth in terms of well-being.

Research and Policy in Development (RAPID)

RAPID was created in 2008, ODI, United Kingdom. The programme aims to improve the use of research and evidence in development policy and practice through research, advice and debate. The programme works on four main themes: the role of evidence in policy processes; improved communication and information systems for policy and practice; better knowledge management and learning for development agencies; approaches to institutional development for evidence-based policy.

The Well-being Institute

The Well-being Institute was established in 2008 by the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. The Institute hosts three inter-connected activities: Fundamental Research (Neuroscience, Population Studies, Intervention Development); Action Research (Well-being programmes for: Children, the Workplace and Patients); Dissemination (Conferences & Workshops, Publications, Influencing Policy, Media Liaison)  

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

an initiative by Gallup and Healthways, has been collecting survey data in the United Kingdom on subjective well-being and health since January 2011.

The happiness formula

BBC website with links to interesting background documents and some online videos related to Happiness in the UK.

Sustainable Development - The Government's Approach - Delivering UK Sustainable Development Together

Created in 2007 by the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU), United Kingdom.

Productivity and Competitiveness Indicators

The Government has identified five drivers of productivity: investment, innovation, skills, enterprise and competition. A wide-ranging programme of reforms has been initiated to boost productivity through the five drivers, including those which cut across the five drivers to maximise the synergies between them.

The Index of Multiple Deprivation

The Index of Multiple Deprivation was created by the British Department for Communities and Local Government(DCLG) on the local authority level (Lower Layer Super Output Area level) and was calculated for 2000, 2004 and 2007. The Index is based on the idea of distinct dimensions of deprivation which can be recognised and measured separately. These are then combined into a single overall measure. The Index is available for English (2010), Welsh (2008) and Scottish (2009) communities.

Forum for the Future

Forum for the Future was established in 2008. We believe that humanity faces an immense challenge. We can no longer treat the planet without any thought for the future. So we’re working with over 120 leading businesses and organisations to bring about change. We are a charity committed to sustainable development. 

Regional sustainable development indicators for the English regions

Regional versions of the UK Government’s indicators of sustainable development were first published in December of 2005 to help provide a perspective of sustainable development in each region. They have been updated annually and the most recent version was published on 31st January 2008.

Happiness in the United Kingdom

This is an overview of findings on Happiness in the United Kingdom. The available findings are presented in the latest ‘Nation Report’ on the United Kingdom. This report is organised by type of happiness questions and within these types, by year. This ordering is to facilitate the assessment of progress, with comparison over time being made more feasible by the use of the same questions.
The report presents means and standard deviations, both on the original scale range and transformed to a common range 0-10. The means inform about the level of happiness in the country and the standard deviations about inequality of happiness.
Links provide more detail about the precise text of the question, the full distribution of responses and technical details of the survey. The report is continuously updated.

Measuring progress in child well-being

Recent analysis of time trends in the British Household Panel Survey Data with measures of children's subjective well-being[3] indicates that there is a small but significant increase in well-being over this period - particularly during the 2000s.[4]

The Child Well-being Index

The Child Well-being Index (CWI) is an attempt to measure the well-being of children at the local level. The CWI is made up of the following seven domains: material well-being, health, education, crime, housing, environment, children in need. Each domain is operationalised by a number of indicators.[5]

The Children's Society

The Children’s Society’s well-being research programme was initiated in 2005 to fill a gap in research regarding young people's own views of well-being, with a focus on positive rather than negative indicators, and on well-being in the present rather than ‘well-becoming’.

The results of this research is published in The Children's Society publication The Good Childhood Index. The Children's Society also produced in collaboration with the University of York an index of children's subjective well-being in England.

Research in Practice: Supporting evidence-informed practice with Children and Families

The UK based network provides useful research.

Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted)

The government office reports on children's environment and performances. The TellUs survey, stopped in 2010, used to include a question on Happiness, i.e. Child Subjective Well-being

Young Lives

The Young Lives Study is a study of child poverty in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. The study is investigating the cycles of poverty reproduction over the period 2011-1015 to inform development policy making. The core study is financed by the Department for International Development. 

Official Statistics

The National Wellbeing Project

The Office for National Statistics

Media Coverage - UK prepares to measure happiness

Western leaders are looking beyond traditional indexes of economic and social well-being and turning to ways of measuring national happiness. Philip Johnston wonders how such a scheme might work.

It’s been a rough few weeks for social researchers in the aftermath of the Spending Review and as the reality of austerity sinks in. But here’s something to smile about: Prime Minister David Cameron wants to commission a new ongoing survey of how happy people are.

So it's official. Stiff-upper-lip-Brits have gone all touchy-feely. Today the Guardian Newspaper reported that "The UK government is poised to start measuring people's psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness."

It Sounds crazy - especially coming from a Tory Government whose economic policies spell misery for millions of people. But David Cameron wants to measure how happy we are.

Governments are mulling the adoption of a happiness index to measure psychological and environmental well-being as one method of assessing a nation's economic progress and guiding national policies, but analysts are split over the viability of the indicator.

Britain is poised to start measuring people's psychological and environmental well-being, making it one of the first countries to officially monitor happiness. Bhutan has had a happiness index since the 1970s.

David Cameron has set out plans to measure the public’s happiness, in a move branded ‘voodoo sociology’ by MPs.

The UK government is poised to start measuring people’s psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness.

The UK government is to start monitoring our happiness, with the stated aim of making wellbeing a starting point for policy. In advance of this, we thought we'd do our own informal survey. So, are you happy?

How happy is the UK? The Government wants to know, and is drawing up a list of questions to ask the public. But what do you think they should be asking? Channel 4 News finds out.

Politicians often think they instinctively know what makes us happy. David Cameron is right to turn to statistics

The British government plans to follow through on Prime Minister David Cameron's campaign pledge to gauge national happiness and use the findings to help shape policy.

Europeans are becoming less "emotionally prosperous" despite the continuing rise in living standards, according to research that questions why the public are so badly misjudging what makes them happy.

Feeling fine? Frustrated? Fantastic? The British government really wants to know. British officials said Monday they will start measuring national happiness in addition to gauging more traditional data like income levels and fear of violent crime.

The Government is preparing to officially measure the happiness of Britons, it has been reported.

Before becoming British prime minister, David Cameron called for well-being to be assessed alongside traditional economic indicators, saying there was "more to life than money," Sky News reported.

In 1991, the author Michael Frayn wrote a book, A Landing on the Sun, about a British prime minister who tasked his advisers with looking into happiness and what the government could do to promote it. The prize proved elusive, the adviser went mad and died.

Despite 'nervousness', David Cameron wants measure of wellbeing to steer government policy

Despite ‘nervousness’, David Cameron wants measure of wellbeing to steer government policy. The UK government is poised to start measuring people’s psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness.

The UK at the Conference: Two years after the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report: What well-being and sustainability measures? 12 October, 2011

Scottish study: "Measuring What Matters"

  • In the key presentations at the conference, Joseph Stiglitz pointed out that Scotland has produced an exemplary report, in terms of the international focus on measuring well-being, on how Scotland can better measure and ensure the well being of its citizens based on the findings of the Stiglitz Commission.
  • David Halpern of the UK Prime Minister's Office spoke about the British government's current focus on measuring the happiness of its citizens. Mr Halpern reported on the rapid progress being made in the UK on their initiative on self reported well-being. Among the key points raised were Prime Minister David Cameron's commitment to measuring quality of life. Mr Halpern quoted the Prime Minister who said in November 2010 that "economic growth is a means to an end."

Summary of UK Prime Minister's Office presentation at the Conference:

The UK government has been looking at more subjective measures of progress such as life satisfaction and the policy implications of the results for years to come. are applying behavioural economics in terms of looking at what it is that citizens do to help themselves and also in defining these measures: "If you want to influence policy you have to be sophisticated about how you measure human behaviour...(you have to understand) how people behave and what drives their well-being" and "give citizens a say." They are also looking at the issue that there are things you may choose to do because you find it worthwhile but it may not necessarily make you happy. An example Halpern sites was, "…children…you may not be happy to try to get your children to do their homework but you find it worthwhile".

According to Mr Halpern, “One powerful element is that the data collected on well-being is useful and interesting to citizens [and would] raise many questions that affect citizen choices.” He described a UK of 200 000 Britons carried out in 2010 asking them to answer 4 questions on a scale of 1 – 10:

  • How satisfied are you with your life?
  • How happy did you feel yesterday?
  •  How anxious?
  • To what extent do you think the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

The findings highlight, for example, that geographical areas with the highest life satisfaction are not necessarily linked to income, with factors such as long commute to work, sense of community and social interaction standing out as important.

"The UK govt resonates with intuition these factors are important and not focused on enough" stated Halpern. He also suggested that "what drives well-being also drives growth", and how factors like social trust can be more important than human capital in influencing this. He went on to day that in terms of implications for policy, some key topics flagged by the UK government as having significant impact on subjective well-being are:

  • Calculations of utility, sport, green spaces
  • Informing life choices e.g. higher education
  • Valuing opportunities for social interaction
  • Planning policy
  • The importance to subjective well-being of volunteering and reciprocity
  • Parenting and schooling
  • Refining tax-benefits
  • Staff surveys
  • Social interaction

The UK government’s vision also includes developing a dashboard of objective/subjective measures to function as the “commanding heights of statistical analysis of our nation.” The “top ten” scoring indicators would signal where Britons are satisfied with life and the bottom 10 lead to questions of why? What’s going on? At the time of the conference in October 2011, the British government was also revising its Green Book (the official guidelines for policy makers) to review measurement of well-being, including subjective well-being and satisfaction and its application to policies.

Progress, Papers and Publications

Measuring What matters is a report issued by the UK Office for National Statistics. It is part of an ONS 2010 launched a programme of work on measuring national well-being. The aim of the programme is to develop and publish an accepted and trusted set of National Statistics to help understand and monitor national well-being. It will put together traditional economic measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with those which reflect the social and environmental aspects of society, including subjective well-being.

Progress-related events in the United Kingdom

Child well-being related publications and papers

Mental Health Promotion and Mental Illness Prevention: the Economic Case, 2011, M. Knapp, M. parsonage and D. McDaid, LSE and other institutions for the Centre for Mental Health.

Working Paper: Current Measures and the Challenges of Measuring Children's Wellbeing, 2011, J. Thomas, United_Kingdom, Office for National Statistics

See also


  1. New Economics Foundation (2009): National Accounts of Wellbeing: Bringing real wealth onto the balance sheet”, London 2009. Available at: http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/national-accounts-well-being
  2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8655847/Camerons-pursuit-of-happiness-a-policy-made-in-Bhutan....html
  3. Bradshaw J & Keung A (2010) Trends in Child Subjective Well-being in the United Kingdom (Paper for the Social Policy Association Conference 2010). Available at:http://www.social-policy.org.uk/lincoln/Bradshaw%20and%20Keung.pdf
  4. The Children's Society (2010), "Developing an index of children's subjective well-being in England", London, October. Available at: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/research_docs/Developing%20an%20Index%20of%20Children%27s%20Subjective%20Well-being%20in%20England.pdf
  5. http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/1126232.pdf

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