The economic data is bad, but the UK’s wellbeing is not quite so dismal

Ruth Mortimer is Marketing Week’s editor and a prolific blogger. She won a PPA Award for her forthright and insightful columns on marketing.

The British double-dip recession has deepened, just as the eyes of the world swivel to the UK for the London 2012 Olympics. While the globe may be coming to Britain for the next few weeks of sport, it appears the UK has not done so well at exporting itself. The UK’s economic output dropped by 0.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2012.

So it looks like we’re in the worst economic shape for the past 50 years. But according to the first government Well-being Index, which has just been published, the UK seems pretty happy for a country apparently on the brink of financial ruin. Or at least, not desperately miserable.
Just 24.5 per cent of people say that their life satisfaction is ‘low’ or ‘very low’. The largest group, 49.8 per cent, have ‘medium’ life satisfaction, which I think is pretty much as good as you can ever hope to get out of a British person. A surprising 26.1 per cent think their life satisfaction is high.

British people also seem to consider their lives worthwhile, despite the bleak economic times. Just 20 per cent of people say their lives are ‘low’ or ‘very low’ in terms of being worthwhile. Nearly half (48.6 per cent) vote for ‘medium’ while 31.4 per cent choose ‘high’.

Perhaps it’s no surprise I’m cheered by this news. Women are apparently very slightly more likely to be happy than men. Women feel very slightly more than men that their lives are satisfying and worthwhile. But interestingly, while women feel more satisfied and fulfilled by their lives, they also say they felt slightly more anxious yesterday than men. So it appears that women may worry very slightly more but are happier overall.

But while at first sight this data may seem cheering for the Government – “Look, Chancellor, despite the terrible economic figures, the British people are happy” – there is some serious data that should make it anxious about employment in such a financially depressed country. I wouldn’t start rolling out the index as proof that British people enjoy happy lives just yet.

Eighty per cent of employed people claim to have medium or high levels of satisfaction with their lives, meaning just 20 per cent of the workforce feel low or very low in terms of life satisfaction. That’s great news, except of course that 2.61 million people are out of work and The Guardian recently published data showing that 6.5 million people want to work in this country.

Among the unemployed, there is a dip by a third for high and medium life satisfaction to just 55 per cent. A huge 45 per cent – nearly half – have low or very low satisfaction levels with their lives, well over twice that of employed people. This may well have got worse along with the economy over the past few months.

You see, this data was collected between April 2011 and March 2012, rather than summer 2012. Since the data was collected, it has been revealed that we are in a double-dip recession in the UK. And now it has been shown to be a longer and deeper double-dip than we first expected. So there is a whole tranche of recent bad news not yet analysed in the well-being data.

Will we still look like such a happy nation in the second tranche of well-being results? If so, it will be despite the economy, the unemployment figures and all the indications that British people do not have a lot to smile about. But then Brits do famously love adversity, so maybe they are the perfect nation to ask about their well-being during terrible times.



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