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UK Well-being Levels Slide and Anxiety Rises, Study Finds

Ratings for personal well-being among people in the UK fell across all measures in the past year but remained above levels reported during the COVID-19 pandemic, official statistics showed.

Average scores for happiness, satisfaction with life, and a feeling that things done were worthwhile were all lower in the year to March 2023, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found.

The proportion of people reporting high levels of anxiety increased over the 12 months, statisticians said.

Erosion of Life Satisfaction

Average scores for life satisfaction were 7.45 out of 10 in the year to March, down from 7.54 in the previous year. However, that was higher than the 7.39 recorded in 2020-2021, the first year of the pandemic.

Rates of happiness showed a similar pattern, with a score of 7.39 in 2022-2023, compared with 7.45 in the previous year, and 7.32 in 2020-2021.

A sense that things done in life were worthwhile scored 7.73 out of 10 in the latest annual snapshot, down from 7.77 in 2021-2022. However, the figure for both years was higher than the 7.71 scored in the first pandemic year.

Average ratings for life satisfaction, feeling that the things done in life are worthwhile, and happiness appeared to decline for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but improved slightly for Scotland, the figures suggested. However, statistically significant changes were only seen across the measures for England, the ONS said.

Most regions saw a decline in average life satisfaction in the year to March, with the most statistically significant falls seen in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, and the East of England.

When people were asked how anxious they had felt the day before, the average score was 3.23 out of 10 in the last year, compared with 3.12 in 2021-2022. A greater proportion of women reported high levels of anxiety than men, with over a quarter (26.6%) of women, compared with 1 in 5 men (20.0%), reporting high levels of anxiety.

Health an Important Factor in Determining Well-being

Adults with 'very bad' self-rated health reported the highest proportion of poor well-being across all measures. Over half (57.4%) in this category reported high levels of anxiety, and over 4 in 10 (46.5%) reported low levels of happiness compared with those who assessed themselves as in 'very good' health, where the figures were 14.8% and 3.8% respectively.

Commenting on the figures, Tim Vizard from the ONS said: "Today's data shows that although our personal well-being has improved since the height of COVID-19, we have seen a worsening picture in 2022-2023, with rates remaining below those seen before the pandemic."

"We see those in poor health among those most likely to report lower levels of well-being, as well as differences where people live across the UK."