Response to the Office for National Statistics wellbeing report

The Office for National Statistics was asked by the Prime Minister David Cameron last November how to find out how to measure the nation's wellbeing. National Statistician Jill Matheson, in charge of the wellbeing project reported for the first time yesterday after a six month-long consultation. Simon Lawton Smith, Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation comments:

“There is a wealth of evidence that positive wellbeing influences a wide range of outcomes for individuals and communities, including mental health. Yet wellbeing is not sufficiently taken into account when both national and local government spend public money.

This survey is the first step towards establishing a better understanding of the importance of wellbeing for individuals and communities, to drive future policy and spending decisions around public health, housing, employment, education and the environment”.

We also know that wellbeing is vital to tackling inequalities, with the need to measure wellbeing critical to identifying the success of initiatives addressing income and health inequalities. More specifically, positive mental health and wellbeing helps people with diagnosed mental disorders to recover more quickly.

It is disappointing that some commentators in the media have chosen to that portray the exercise as a pointless, gimmicky “happiness survey”. It is worth noting that none of the five main questions of the ONS exercise actually mention happiness.

Wellbeing and happiness are not the same thing, although they are sometimes used interchangeably. What we are interested in is overall wellbeing, which the Government has described as a positive physical, social and mental state. It’s not about feeling happy for a few minutes at having won £10 on the lottery or buying a new pair of shoes. It’s about building a sense of long-term wellbeing in individuals and communities that improves quality of life for all citizens across the UK”.

For more information, please read our Need to Know Briefing about measuring well-being.

Published 26 July 2011 |
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  • I'm delighted to see that the report points out that happiness has nothing to do with well-being and that it is a media lead idea that was intended to rubbish the idea of well-being. I believe that in any project championing well-being can be good for us all -cup half full not half empty. Someone should tell the press that rubbishing optimism is very dangerous -perhaps in the face of recent media scandal, as their jobs come under scrutiny, they will remember that.

    M.Turner 28 July 2011
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