Chart of the week: Wellbeing across the four UK countries during the pandemic

Each week we present analysis of data in chart form to illustrate some key issues and invite discussion. Covid-19 restrictions may be easing, but the ramifications of the crisis on people’s lives and livelihoods have been extensive. Rachel Hutchings takes a closer look at how the pandemic has affected wellbeing across the four countries of the UK.

Chart of the week

Published: 20/05/2021

The last year has had an unprecedented impact on every aspect of our society, from health care and education to work and travel. Despite restrictions easing, the ramifications of Covid-19 on people’s lives and livelihoods are extensive. But just how has the pandemic affected wellbeing across the UK?

The ONS regularly measures wellbeing through its Annual Population Survey. The chart shows how levels of anxiety, happiness and feelings of worthwhileness and life satisfaction compared across the four countries of the UK between April 2019 and March 2020, and April to September 2020.

From last April, feelings of worthwhileness, life satisfaction and happiness fell across the whole of the UK. There was also a marked increase in anxiety (albeit only marginally in Northern Ireland). Increased anxiety was particularly seen in areas that had on average poorer health status, and among people who considered their own health to be ‘bad’ or ‘very bad'.

Perceptions of wellbeing are subjective, depending on what matters to people and how they are feeling at any particular time. While the pandemic has undoubtedly had an effect, many things influence wellbeing, including social, environmental and economic factors.

Although it’s not possible to compare local authorities, patterns can be observed across the UK as a whole. For example, there is a clear relationship between life satisfaction and employment levels both before and during the pandemic. Prior to the crisis, greater community cohesion was linked to increased life satisfaction. Community cohesion refers to how far people feel a sense of belonging to the communities they live in and the relationships that exist among people, taking different backgrounds and circumstances into account.

But this link disappeared during the first six months of the pandemic – an indication perhaps that in the midst of a pandemic which brought on both a health and economic crisis, even the strongest communities struggled to support individuals.

Historic trend data from the same survey shows life satisfaction and other associated measures of wellbeing falling sharply at the start of the pandemic, and then starting to recover last summer. But that period of recovery was quickly followed by a second Covid wave in late autumn and a further national lockdown in January this year. How the UK as a whole, and individual communities within it, fared through that is likely to depend in part on economic, health and community factors that combine to help individuals thrive and be resilient.


Notes on data / methodology

*The ONS looks at four things to measure wellbeing – happiness, life satisfaction, worthwhileness and anxiety. The chart shows how levels of anxiety, happiness and feelings of worthwhileness and life satisfaction compared across the four countries of the UK before the pandemic (April 2019 – March 2020) and following the start of the pandemic (April to September 2020).

*Using the Annual Population Survey (conducted quarterly), individuals are asked to rank – on a scale of 1 to 10 – their feelings around four aspects of personal wellbeing – happiness, worthwhileness, life satisfaction and levels of anxiety. Information is collected at local authority level but data is not comparable between local authorities due to small sample sizes and mode effects.

*The ONS looked at the relationship between wellbeing and environment using the Thriving Places Index (TPI) – a set of evidence-based indicators at local authority level designed to illustrate how far an area supports the conditions that enable individual and societal wellbeing, including employment, culture and community cohesion.