Wellbeing in decline in England as loneliness rises, report shows


Wellbeing in England has decreased in the last year while loneliness and mistrust in government has increased, analysis of ONS data shows.

The new report from Carnegie UK comes in advance of the publication on Tuesday of the latest ONS GDP figures, which are expected to show that the UK economy grew in the second quarter of 2021.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, said the analysis highlighted a “worrying decline in collective wellbeing” that suggested the government’s priorities were not working for people.

The decline in wellbeing started before the pandemic and continued to drop as the country entered its first national lockdown in March 2020, the data indicates.

The charity predicts that when it reports on 2020/21 levels later this year, this decline will be even worse. It calls for an urgent rethink on the overemphasis on economic data to measure the post-pandemic recovery.

Sarah Davidson, chief executive of Carnegie UK, said anybody who has lived through the last year and a half will have become “so aware of the fact that the things that affect our experience of life goes so much wider than simply things which are captured by by economic data”.

“So much of what we’ve talked about during this pandemic has really reflected the complexity of our lives and the fact that things like our personal relationships, and the extent to which we can influence decisions … and even things like our access to green spaces has an impact,” she said. “All of these things actually tell you something really important about the quality of our life.”

The charity is proposing a new measure of national progress – gross domestic wellbeing, or GDWe – to measure whether life is getting better or worse. The latest GDWe score, based on ONS data, was 6.79 out of 10 for 2019/20, compared with 6.89 for 2018/19, its lowest level since 2015/16.

“We’re not saying that economic factors are not important, because they are, and the model of wellbeing that we talk about highlights the importance of balancing social, economic, environmental [and] democratic outcomes … In order to properly capture what’s important to people’s lives, you really need to measure all these things,” Davidson said.

She added that this data, which shows wellbeing falling in multiple measured areas, including relationships and governance, should then be used to influence policy decisions.

The number of adults in England feeling lonely has been increasing since 2017 and in the last year jumped by 44%, from 2.6 million to 3.7 million. Meanwhile, trust in government is at an-all time low following a nearly 40% drop from 2018/19 to 2019/20 (from 31% to 19%).

The concept of GDWe has had support from 20 cross-party MPs, who have signed an early day motion.

Lucas, one of the MPs who endorses the introduction of GDWe, said: “The worrying decline in collective wellbeing is a sign that current government priorities just aren’t delivering for most people. Official measures of success like GDP growth don’t translate into people feeling better about their lives.”

She added that if we used GDWe instead of GDP growth “as the guiding star” for economic policymaking, it would be “a major step towards measuring what matters most to people”.

Carnegie UK said the delay in the release of official data on England’s wellbeing must be addressed urgently. At the moment, there is a 17-month wait until ONS data on wellbeing is available, compared with an eight-month delay for economic data.