Economically prosperous towns and cities are not the happiest or healthiest


Just because an area is high in wealth, produces lots of goods and services, or is able to attract business, doesn't mean the people living there are happy, according to a new study.

In places like London and Leeds, where the economy is strong, people are more likely to be anxious, the Grant Thornton study says.

Parts of London rank badly for happiness (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Parts of London rank badly for happiness (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The Vibrant Economy Index, based on 52 indicators of performance, tracks factors that enable businesses, communities and individuals to thrive.

Economic measures such as Gross Value Added (GVA), educational attainment and average incomes are combined with data around fuel poverty, obesity levels, air quality and crime rates to give a picture of how a place is performing not just economically but socially.

Places were measured by key factors in each performance indicator and awarded an overall "vibrancy" score.

A reflection of the Port of Liverpool Building seen in a glass building (Peter Byrne/PA)
A reflection of the Port of Liverpool Building seen in a glass building (Peter Byrne/PA)

Parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool all scored worst for health, wellbeing and happiness with rural areas including parts of Devon and Somerset, and commuter areas, like parts of Hertfordshire and Surrey, all performing well in that category.

Inclusivity and equality, judged for this study purely by asking whether everyone in an area benefits from economic growth, was supposedly high in much of the South and Midlands except for Tower Hamlets, Westminster, Barking and Dagenham, and Nottingham and Birmingham, where there were some of the lowest levels across the nation.

Economic equality - how much wealth is shared - is a factor that correlates with happiness, and the lack of it in "prosperous" areas is perhaps a reason for them ranking lower on happiness.

"We need an economy that produces wealth and creates jobs, one where the trust and integrity of businesses and institutions enables entrepreneurial and innovative growth, and where everyone can benefit from that economic growth in a healthy and active environment, which must be sustainable for the long-term," Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of Grant Thornton, said.

People enjoy a ride along the river Cam in Cambridge (Chris Radburn/PA)
People enjoy a ride along the river Cam in Cambridge (Chris Radburn/PA)

Cambridge, Oxford and Richmond upon Thames were England's most "vibrant" areas, with Cambridge scoring highly on dynamism and opportunity, which measures innovation and entrepreneurship, resilience and sustainability, and community, trust & belonging, which measures how safe and engaged people feel in their community.

But while Cambridge performs well on prosperity its score is lower than Leeds, Reading, Manchester and Oxford, demonstrating that social and economic performance relies on more than just high GVA and employment levels.

"If we want an economy that works, then it must provide opportunities for everyone. We're hearing loud and clear the messages about what divides us in the UK," Romanovitch said. "That means we need more than ever to build a vibrant economy where people are engaged in their local communities, where communities trust local businesses and local government, and where businesses can invest and grow."