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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

Measuring Happiness and Well-being

In November 2010, the Prime Minister asked the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to develop measures of general well-being that complement traditional measures of progress reporting such as GDP, in order to better understand the impact of public policy.

The ONS are continuing to consult on the headline well-being indicators, and from April 2012 will publish subjective and objective measures of well-being.


In response to this, myself and colleagues have taken a look at the well-being of Londoners based on data that is available now.


How happy are Londoners? This question has broadly been answered in our happiness paper, where data from the Taking Part survey shows that despite a slight increase in happiness since 2005/06 and our relative wealth to other parts of the UK, Londoners are the least happy of any UK region. This is a long-term trend, not one caused by the recession. 


Other data from the Understanding Society study has unveiled that neither poverty nor wealth influences children’s happiness, but time spent with family is key. Further research is needed to prove whether happiness is influenced more by wealth or by other factors such as health or seeing friends.


Why should happiness be important to policy makers? Well, satisfaction with one’s life is strongly correlated with satisfaction with one’s neighbourhood, as is buying ones own home, and having a job. It’s up to policy makers to help bring all of these things within reach of every Londoner.


So we need to target the neighbourhoods that need the most attention. Which neighbourhoods have the lowest well-being? To help answer this question, we have put together an innovative tool that combines a dozen of the most relevant indicators in order to calculate a single score at ward level. Often policy-makers look at just one or two indicators in order to geographically target resource, looking at key ones like unemployment and certain benefit claimant rates. But in terms of overall well-being this method misses many other just as important measures, such as air pollution, lone parent families, truancy rates etc.


Ward wellbieng tool

The ward tool demonstrates there are huge differences within boroughs, with some containing mixtures of both high and low well-being such as Haringey, Enfield, Camden and Westminster. Can this data help us inform debates around why the London riots happened and why they happened where they did? Is regeneration money being used in the right areas? Have areas that have seen advancements in well-being over the last five years received regeneration funding, or is there something less tangible going on that has caused the improvement?


The tool will be updated annually to help highlight areas of improvement or decline. I hope it will be widely used within and outside the GLA to help inform people’s opinions about local areas.


Gareth Piggott

Senior Research and Statistical Analyst, Intelligence Unit