Audience for the Pholay Molay dance at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Bhutan
Festival audience in Bhutan, where they measure Gross National Happiness

Our well-being is average, those of us  living in the Shooters Hill ward, according to figures from the Greater london Authority’s London Datastore.  Their composite values for the probability that people living in the ward will have higher well-being are built up from 12 different measures:

Health – Life Expectancy, Incapacity Benefits claimant rate
Economic security – Unemployment rate, Income Support claimant rate
Safety – Crime rate, Deliberate Fires
Education – GCSE point scores
Children – Unauthorised Pupil Absence
Families – Children in out-of-work families
Transport – Public Transport Accessibility Scores
Environment – Access to public open space & nature
Community – Elections Turnout

The average value for England and Wales for this measure of well-being is zero, which is what the Shooters Hill value for 2010 worked out to. Shooters Hill had the third highest score in Greenwich, as can be seen in the spreadsheet snippet below, but was 270th out of 625 London wards. The highest Greenwich well-being score was +5 for the Eltham North ward and the lowest, -14, for Woolwich Riverside, which was 619th out of the 625 wards across London.

Greenwich wards well being taken from  http://data.london.gov.uk/datastore/package/london-ward-well-being-scores

Compared to other boroughs Greenwich residents don’t do so well, as the map snippet below shows, with most wards having a well-being probability below average. Well-being probability values are higher in some nearby boroughs such as Bexley and Bromley. Not surprisingly the London ward with the highest well-being probability was Knightsbridge and Belgravia in Westminster borough, and the top ten included 4 wards from Merton, 3 from Richmond upon Thames and one each from the City of London  and Kensington and Chelsea. In general the indicators of well-being have a negative correlation with indicators of deprivation, such as the Ward Level Indices of Deprivation published by the GLA, but also with individual data items such as the Income Support Rate and the Unemployment Rate. In simple terms, the more deprived the ward, or the higher the level of income support or unemployment the lower the well being probability and the lower the indicators of well being such as life expectancy.

Snippet of London Ward Well-Being Scores Map
Snippet of London Ward Well-Being Scores Map

The life expectancy data were particularly striking indicators of the differences between wealthy and poor areas of London. The Greater london Authority’s well being figures are based on an average of the male and female life expectancy figures; a more detailed breakdown of ward level data is contained in the ward profiles dataset. In the gender averaged life expectancy figures people living in the Shooters Hill ward have the longest life expectancy of any ward in Greenwich,  with the 2005-2009 life expectancy of 82.1. The lowest in Greenwich is Glyndon ward at just 75.3 – a difference of nearly 7 years! The highest life expectancy across London is an ancient 96.4 years in the West End ward of Westminster borough, and the lowest a mere 74.1 in the East Ham ward in Newham. So people in one of the wealthiest areas of London can expect to live over 14 years longer than we in Shooters Hill, and over 22 years longer than people living in East Ham!

The correlation between  life expectancy (from the  Greater london Authority’s well being spreadsheet) and  deprivation (from the Department of Communities and Local Government, Indices of Deprivation 2010) for Greenwich wards is shown in the graph below.

Average Life Expectancy for Greenwich Wards against Index of Deprivation
Average Life Expectancy for Greenwich Wards against Index of Deprivation

The Greater London Authority criteria I’ve used are not the only way of measuring well-being. The Office for National Statistics also have a programme to develop measures for national well-being, which is graphically represented in their Wheel of Measures. This programme was kicked off by David Cameron in 2010. The ONS use a larger set of data items in their well-being assessment:

Individual well-being, e.g. Percentage with medium/high rating of satisfaction with their lives overall
Our relationships, e.g.  Average rating of satisfaction with family life (1-10)
Health, e.g. Healthy life expectancy at birth, Percentage who reported a long term illness and a disability
What we do, e.g. Unemployment rate, Percentage who were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their job, Percentage who volunteered more than once a year
Where we live, e.g. Crimes against the person, Percentage who felt very or fairly safe walking alone after dark
Personal finance, e.g. Percentage of individuals living in households with less than 60 per cent of median income after housing costs
Education and skills, e.g. Percentage with five or more GCSE’s A*-C incl English and Maths, Percentage of UK residents aged 16 to 64 with no qualifications
The economy, e.g. Real household actual income per head, UK public sector net debt as a percentage of GDP, Inflation rate (as measured by the Consumer Price index)
Governance (involvement in democracy and trust in how the country is run), e.g. Percentage of registered voters who voted
The natural environment, e.g. Total greenhouse gas emissions (millions of tonnes),  Air pollutants – PM10 (000’s tonnes), Energy consumed within the UK from renewable sources

Unfortunately the results from the ONS only break the data down to county level, they don’t go down to ward level and so don’t tell us how happy we are in Shooters Hill.

Although the UK’s use of a well-being index has been criticised as being too woolly, and the ONS approach to the contributory metrics seems a bit scatter gun, I’m in favour of using other measures than GDP to assess how we are doing as a country. I’ve always been a bit uneasy about the idea that growth has to continue year after year. We can’t grow forever; eventually we will fill the planet and raw materials will start to run out. The idea that economic growth is more important than health or the environment seems very short sighted, and if followed to its ultimate conclusion would mean that one day we will only be able to see the great animals of Africa on a David Attenborough documentary. I also sympathise with the Skideslkys’ concern about insatiable, socially-generated conspicuous consumption: the observation that in wealthy countries such as the UK those who  have enough to live on comfortably continue to work long hours to be able to acquire the latest gadget, or a bigger car or wider TV. The Skidelskys also define a “good life”, a kind of well-being at the personal level.

Bhutan is credited with being one of the first countries to downplay GDP as a measure of success, in favour of Gross National Happiness – their measure of well-being. As wikipedia says: “The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.” The Bhutanese use GNH to guide their policies; one reason they are supporting conservation initiatives such the Tiger Corridor which featured in a BBC TV programme recently. Bhutan is also one of the most photogenic countries I’ve visited, so I’m pleased to have the chance to use some of my photographs of the Pholay Molay dance at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Bhutan.

The Pholay Molay dance at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Bhutan
The Pholay Molay dance at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Bhutan
The Pholay Molay dance at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Bhutan
The Pholay Molay dance at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Bhutan


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