Government to explore policy priorities for boosting wellbeing

ONS outlines work streams to expand measurements of loneliness and wellbeing inequality

The ONS has identified the groups most as risk of loneliness, including widowed older homeowners and young renters. Credit: Richard Gray/EMPICS Entertainment

By Tamsin.Rutter

11 Apr 2018

The UK government has stepped up the work it does on measuring national wellbeing alongside more traditional methods of measuring prosperity such as gross domestic product.

Office for National Statistics work to measure loneliness and wellbeing has expanded in scope to ensure it covers all parts of society, including people with limited English language skills.  

In a blog on the ONS website, David Tabor, research officer for the ONS’s Quality of Life team, outlined some of the work being introduced, which will culminate in a working paper later this year with recommendations of policy priorities to target inequalities in wellbeing.


The ONS pioneered a new measurement of wellbeing to use in conjunction with other figures such as GDP. It now aims “to dig a little deeper than headline averages”, Tabor said.

He highlighted work published on Tuesday on the social characteristics associated with loneliness and the groups most likely to be lonely, which included widowed older homeowners, middle-aged unmarried people with health problems, and young renters.

The work will enable policymakers “to better understand the most at-risk groups”, he added, following the prime minister Theresa May’s announcement of a strategy to alleviate loneliness.

Later in the year the ONS will publish work on the people “who report the lowest subjective wellbeing in the UK”, which again will help policymakers “target interventions towards those struggling most in society”, Tabor said.

He also highlighted work to expand the ONS’s wellbeing surveys, which had been extensively circulated in English but never in translation among people who speak little English – a group that has been identified as being at risk of worse health and potentially lower wellbeing. The statistics body has begun piloting tests of translations of the personal wellbeing questions in Urdu and Sylheti.

The ONS is also exploring measures of wellbeing inequality, in addition to its standard measurements of personal wellbeing.

“A working paper will be released later this year exploring the potential policy priorities for reducing wellbeing inequalities and consider which measures best capture the distribution of wellbeing across the population,” said Tabor.

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