Brexit referendum brought UK feelgood factor to abrupt halt, says ONS

It’s official: life in Britain was getting better before Brexit. In the years up to 2016 people in the UK were on average feeling better about their lives, enjoying better mental health, feeling less lonely and more connected with their neighbours.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has concluded that on all these measures between 2011 and 2016, things were improving and the happiness of the UK population was in line with that of its European Union neighbours, staying steady at a respectable 7.4 out of ten.

In an upbeat report comparing UK wellbeing with other countries across the first part of this decade, the ONS said yesterday that average life satisfaction was higher in the UK than the average of other OECD countries (better than Mexico and Portugal, but not as good as the USA or Norway) and that 86% of adults felt that what they did in life was worthwhile – up from 2011.

Britons’ feelings of worth were increasing faster than their EU counterparts; the same for improvements in mental health; and in 2016 93% of British people felt their friends or relatives to could be relied upon in times of trouble – about the same proportion as Canada and far more than Korea.

One of the only downbeat results in 2016 was that Britons felt less trust in the European Union than the average across the 28 member states; and the rest, in terms of the result of the EU referendum, is history.

Data for the UK alone on happiness, published last month, has revealed what many might have assumed from the subsequent national mood.

Since the end of 2017, six years of improvements in average happiness, life satisfaction and feelings that what people do in life is worthwhile have levelled off in line with recent trends in net household financial wealth and household disposable income per head. Anxiety levels rose in the run-up to Brexit and kept rising afterwards before falling back from September 2017.

The figures were published in line with the government’s pledge to measure the quality of national life “beyond GDP”. Thefigures rely largely on household data, leaving the views of people in nursing homes, homeless hostels, care homes, barracks and prisons out of the equation.

But among those whose views were captured, people in the UK were on average happier, compared with the EU average in 2016.

In Spring 2018 people tended to trust the army, police and courts more than the EU, UK government and parliament. Britons were more trusting of those institutions than the average EU citizen.

But the data also captures a sense of buyer’s regret about Brexit. Between 2016 and 2018 the increase in the number of people believing that it is a good thing for EU citizens to have the right to work in the UK was higher than any other EU nation – up by 11 percentage points.

And the proportion of people in the UK disagreeing that the country faced a better future outside the EU increased by six percentage points from spring 2016 to spring 2018. Also, more people in Greece, Estonia and the Czech Republic than in the UK believe that their voice does not count in the EU.


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