Who is the happiest in Britain?

The release of the data on Britain's wellbeing shows some interesting trends

The Office for National Statistics has today published a huge amount of data from the UK’s first annual national wellbeing statistics. This now gives us a base line to compare to in the future but today’s stats only serve as a snapshot. In the next round we can see who is getting more or less happy but for now, comparing people with each other is as interesting as it gets.

We’ve taken the raw data and made some graphs and charts to illustrate a few things we thought you might find interesting. Firstly, the type of job you do makes a big difference to how you rate your sense of wellbeing and whether you feel what you do in your life is worthwhile.

There’s a huge premium for people doing caring and working in leisure in terms of feeling like what they do is worthwhile. It’s also interesting that professionals are happier than managers.

But whether you have a job in the first place makes even more difference to how you rate your sense of wellbeing and whether you feel what you do in your life is worthwhile.

People living in different parts of Britain have different levels of life satisfaction. Looking at the average rating of satisfaction, we’ve made a table that shows the fifteen most, and the fifteen least satisfying places in Britain.

We were struck by how rural the most satisfied parts of Britain are and the extent to which the least satisfied correlates to areas of persistent poverty and deprivation.

We were also struck by the gender divide in that data. It shows that women have both higher life satisfaction and higher self-reported anxiety. Anyone would think that women take life more seriously than men.

Finally, we were struck by the way that satisfaction and whether you feel what you do in your life is worthwhile changes with age. It seems that from your late teens until your mid-twenties it’s all downhill but life gets better until you hit forty. Then it plummets and its lowest during your 50s. Life “begins” again at sixty but then satisfaction falls again once you reach eighty.

So what? Well, we like graphs and charts and we’re interested in what the differences between people tell us about what we might do differently in future.

Over the past few months IPPR North and Carnegie UK Trust have been looking at other places that have sought to make wellbeing central to their approach. The UK is now at the vanguard of the debate about how to measure people’s wellbeing.

The data published by the ONS today provides us with high quality and detailed measures to work with. The next stage of the debate has to be about how we translate these measures into policy making practice. It is only when these measures find their way through into the policy making process that the policy makers’ cliché about what you measure being what matters will be true.

Tony Blair, looking very, very happy in 1996. Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Darlington is head of news at IPPR and tweets as @RDarlo. Imogen Parker is a researcher at IPPR and tweets as @ImogenParker.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.