Marking eight years of National Well-being – How we’re doing so far

Eight years ago, ONS established the Measuring National Well-being (MNW) programme. The aim was to produce accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation and answer the fundamental question “how are we doing?”  Rhian Jones discusses how the programme is enabling decision makers to look differently at the society around them, helping them to make better decisions.  

Once a year, we report progress against a set of headline indicators covering ten areas including our health, natural environment, personal finances and crime. We also produce a visual overview of the data through our National Well-being dashboard, which can be explored by the areas of life or by the direction of change (if areas have improved, deteriorated or stayed the same).

The MNW programme has traditionally focused mainly on headline figures for the whole population. To increase the value of our work to decision makers and in keeping with our aspiration to ‘leave no one behind’, we are taking a new approach and have been looking beneath the overall figures to understand how people of different ages are faring in the UK today. Understanding more about how people of different ages experience life based on a broad range of measures can help highlight who is thriving and who is struggling in different aspects of life. This is important in assessing how sustainable our currently high levels of national well-being may be in the future.

We’ve published an article today, titled “Measuring National Well-being: Quality of life in the UK, 2018” which provides a snapshot into  how people of different ages are faring in the UK today across a range of measures of national well-being where age group data are available.

 Well-being for all ages?

 Overall, looking at how life is going now for people of different ages in the UK has highlighted that, contrary to a commonly held belief that ageing involves loss and increasing burden, those aged 65 and over are currently faring better on many measures of social and financial well-being than their younger counter-parts. Despite this, it’s important to remember that people aged 65 and over represent a diverse group, with those over 75 particularly noting less satisfaction with health as people move into their 80s.

Among younger adults (broadly from 16 to 24), we have highlighted a range of ways in which their experiences of life in the UK today appear to be more challenging. Although they are more likely to be physically active and more satisfied with their physical health than older people, they are also more likely to report symptoms of mental ill health, and less likely to feel they have someone to rely on or a sense of belonging in their neighbourhood. They also have higher rates of unemployment and more frequently report loneliness. This matters both at an individual level and for society in terms of how well we will be able to sustain high levels of national well-being into the future.

Those in their early and middle years are generally more likely to be in employment but face several challenges that may be linked to more demands placed on their time and the more difficult balance between work and family commitments. In particular, people aged 25 to 54 are less likely to be satisfied with their leisure time.

What’s next?

This year, we are establishing a Centre of Expertise on Ageing and Demography, which will set out our ambition for a comprehensive and coherent workplan for improving the evidence on the impacts of an ageing population. We will also be establishing a Centre of Expertise for Inequalities. The aim of these centres will be to ensure that the right data is available to address the main social and policy questions about fairness and equity in our society. The centres will also act to ensure that relevant analysis is taken forward and that we are using the most appropriate methods. Both centres will involve partnerships across government, academia and other organisations to identify where better evidence is needed and to make better use of new and existing data sources.

 Have your say!

 We are always looking to improve our National Well-being outputs, including the National Well-being dashboard, Domains and Measures dataset and focus articles.

You can help inform our work by sharing your opinions in this short survey. Your feedback will be very valuable in making our results useful and accessible. Please get in touch at

Rhian Jones is a Senior Research Officer for the ONS’s Well-being, Inequalities, Sustainability & Environment Division (WISE)