Levels of personal wellbeing among the UK population have fallen over the past year but are still higher than during the Covid pandemic, a new survey suggests.
Average scores for happiness, life satisfaction and for things being worthwhile were all lower in the year to March 2023 than in the previous 12 months, while feelings of anxiety increased.
There are different trends across the country, however, with England, Wales and Northern Ireland all showing a decline in satisfaction ratings while Scotland showed a slight improvement.
The figures are included in the latest annual population survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which asked people aged 16 and over to rate their wellbeing out of 10 across a range of categories.
The average score for life satisfaction in the year to March 2023 was 7.45 out of 10, down from 7.54 in the previous 12 months.
This is higher than the 7.39 recorded in 2020/21, the first year of the pandemic, but below the 7.66 for the pre-pandemic year of 2019/20.
Happiness levels show a similar pattern, with a score of 7.39 in the latest year, down from 7.45 in 2021/22 but above 7.32 in 2020/21, while still below the pre-pandemic figure of 7.47 in 2019/20.
The survey also asked people to what extent they felt the things they did in life are worthwhile.
This category had an average score of 7.73 out of 10, again down on the previous year (7.77) and on 2019/20 (7.86) but not as low as 2020/21 (7.71).
When asked how anxious they felt yesterday, the average score was 3.23 out of 10, up from 3.12 in 2021/22 and higher than 3.05 in 2019/20 – though not as high as the 3.31 out of 10 recorded in the pandemic year of 2020/21.
Commenting on the figures, Tim Vizard of the ONS said: “Today’s data shows that although our personal wellbeing has improved since the height of Covid-19, we have seen a worsening picture in 2022/23 with rates remaining below those seen before the pandemic.
“We see those in poor health among those most likely to report lower levels of wellbeing, as well as differences where people live across the UK.”
England is the only one of the four UK nations to see a “statistically significant” year-on-year decline in average satisfaction, happiness and worthwhile ratings, though Wales and Northern Ireland also saw a fall while Scotland recorded a slight improvement.
The lack of statistically significant changes in the other nations “may be because of less data collected and therefore less certainty of estimates”, the ONS said.
All nations saw a year-on-year increase in average anxiety levels.
The UK’s overall scores for happiness, life satisfaction and for things being worthwhile were on a broad upwards path in the years before the start of the pandemic, while anxiety scores were heading downwards.
The outbreak of Covid sent these trends into reverse, and the latest figures suggest the wellbeing of the public is still some way from returning to the levels seen at the end of the last decade.
Most regions saw a decline in average life satisfaction ratings between the years ending March 2022 and March 2023.
There were statistically significant declines in:
▪️ the North West
▪️ Yorkshire and the Humber
▪️ the East Midlands
▪️ the East of England pic.twitter.com/uamBzdq1dX
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) November 7, 2023
Across the regions of England, the lowest average score for life satisfaction in 2022/23 was in London and urban areas of the East Midlands (both 7.35 out of 10) while the highest was for rural areas of the West Midlands (7.79).
London also had the lowest score for things being worthwhile (7.60 out of 10) while the rural West Midlands had the highest (8.00).
Happiness scores were highest in the rural West Midlands (7.66) and lowest in urban areas of the East Midlands (7.27), while anxiety scores were lowest in the rural East Midlands (2.80) and highest in London and the urban North West (3.34).