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.

Photo: Getty
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Who's winning the European referendum? The Vicar of Dibley gives us a clue

These polls seem meaningless, but they reveal things more conventional ones miss.

At the weekend, YouGov released some polling on 30 fictional characters and their supposed views on Brexit.  If you calculate a net pro-Remain score (per cent thinking that person would back Remain minus the per cent thinking they’d vote for Leave), you have a list that is topped by Geraldine Granger, the Vicar of Dibley (+21), and ends with Jim Royle (-38).

It’s easy to mock this sort of thing, and plenty did: “pointless”, “polling jumping the shark”, and so on. Some even think pollsters ask daft questions just to generate cheap headlines. What a cynical world we live in.

But the answers to those questions tell you quite a lot, both about the referendum campaign and about voters in general.

For one thing, most of the fictional characters that people saw as voting to Remain are (broadly) nice people, whilst the Outers included a fair few you’d not want to be stuck in a lift with, along with other chancers and wasters. On one side, you have the Vicar of Dibley (+21), Mary Poppins (+13), Miranda (+11), and Dr Who (+9) taking on Hyacinth Bucket (-13), Tracy Barlow (-15), Del Boy (-28), and Basil Fawlty (-36) on the other. This isn’t really much of a contest.

Obviously, some of these are subjective judgements. Personally, I’d not want to be stuck in a lift with the Vicar of Dibley under any circumstances – but she’s clearly meant to be a broadly sympathetic character.  Ditto – with knobs on – Miranda. And yes, some of the Outer characters are more nuanced. Captain Mainwaring (-31) may be pompous and insecure, but he is a brave man doing his best for his country. But still, it’s hard not to see some sort of division here, between broadly good people (Remain) and some more flawed individuals (Out).

So, on one level, this offers a pretty good insight into how people see the campaigns.  It’s why polling companies ask these sort of left-field questions – like the famous Tin Man and Scarecrow question asked by John Zogby – because they can often get at something that normal questions might miss. Sure, they also generate easy publicity for the polling company – but life’s not binary: some things can generate cheap headlines and still be interesting.

But there are two caveats. First, when you look at the full data tables you find that the numbers saying Don’t Know to each of these questions are really big– as high as 55 per cent for both Tracy Barlow and Arthur Dent. The lowest is for both Basil Fawlty and Del Boy, but that’s still 34 per cent. For 26 out of the 30 characters, the plurality response was Don’t Know. The data don’t really show that the public think Captain Birdseye (-11) is for Out; when half of all respondents said they don’t know, they show that the public doesn’t really have a clue what Captain Birdseye thinks.

Much more importantly, second, when you look at the cross breaks, it becomes clear how much of this is being driven by people’s own partisan views. Take James Bond, for example. Overall, he was seen as slightly pro-Remain (+5). But he’s seen as pro-Brexit (-22) by Brexit voters, and pro-Remain (+30) by Remain voters.

The same split applies to Dr Who, Postman Pat, Sherlock Holmes, Miranda, and so on.

In fact, of the 30 characters YouGov polled about, there were just eleven where respondents from both sides of the debate agreed – and these eleven excluded almost all of the broadly positive characters.

So, here’s the ten characters where both Remain and Leave voters agreed would be for Brexit: Alan Partridge; Jim Royle; Del Boy; Hyacinth Bucket; Pat Butcher; Tracy Barlow; Captain Mainwaring; Catherine Tate’s Nan; Cruella De Vil; and Basil Fawlty.

That’s not a great roll call. And it must be saying something that even Outers think Cruella De Vil, Alan Patridge, and Hyacinth Bucket would be one of theirs.

Mind you, the only pro-Remain character that both sides agree on is Sir Humphrey Appleby. That’s not great either.

For the rest, everyone wants them for their own.

So what about those who say they don’t yet know how they will vote in the referendum? These might be the key swing voters, after all. Maybe they can give a more unbiased response. Turns out their ranking is broadly similar to the overall one – with scores that are somewhere between the views of the Outers and the Inners.

But with this group the figures for don’t knows get even bigger: 54 per cent at a minimum, rising to a massive 77 per cent for Arthur Dent.

And that’s because, lacking a partisan view about the referendum, they are not able to project this view onto fictional characters.  They lack, in the jargon, a heuristic enabling them to answer the question. Which tells you something about how most people answered the questions.

Philip Cowley is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London.