| Other defra.gov.uk sites

Creating sustainable communities and a fairer world

68. Wellbeing

Wellbeing is a broad concept with many varying definitions.  Here, it is understood to be a positive physical, social and mental state; it is not just the absence of pain, discomfort and incapacity. It requires that basic needs are met, that individuals have a sense of purpose, that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and participate in society. It is enhanced by conditions that include supportive personal relationships, strong and inclusive communities, good health, financial and personal security, rewarding employment, and a healthy and attractive environment.

Wellbeing cannot be fully measured by a single indicator.  Numerous factors influence individual wellbeing. It is only possible to identify and measure some of them.

Wellbeing is already integral to sustainable development and there are 12 indicators, presented earlier, that have been identified as particularly relevant to wellbeing.  These indicators have been selected based on evidence for an influence on wellbeing, and where possible, are those that indicate the number and / or types of people affected rather than general conditions such as air quality. Some indicators include supplementary wellbeing measures.

List of wellbeing measures

Those measures that are numbered are existing sustainable development indicators, along with any related supplementary wellbeing measures.

39. Fear of crime
Perceptions of anti-social behaviour

41. Workless households
43. Childhood poverty
45. Pensioner poverty

47. Education

50. Healthy life expectancy
Self-reported general health
Self-reported long-standing illness
51. Mortality rates (suicide)
Mortality rates for those with severe mental illness

57. Accessibility
59. Social justice
60. Environmental equality
62. Housing conditions
66. Satisfaction with local area
Trust in people in neighbourhood
Influencing local and national decisions

68. Wellbeing
- The measures included here as part of the Wellbeing indicator, cover life satisfaction and other factors relating to wellbeing which are not otherwise covered above.

Overall life satisfaction
Overall life satisfaction aspects of life
Positive and negative feelings
Engagement in positive activities

Child Wellbeing

Local environment
Positive and negative feelings
Feelings of safety
Health and physical activity


Physical activity
Green space
Cultural participation
Positive mental health

Life satisfaction

Overall life satisfaction and satisfaction with different aspects of life resonate well as a means of measuring wellbeing.  In some ways they are an overall 'outcome' measure reflecting economic wellbeing, health, education, access to services etc. 

It is acknowledged that they have some limitations. In particular the measures are numerically constrained (typically as a score between 0 and 10) so that comparisons over longer periods of time and between countries are difficult. 

New survey questions were developed and results were published by Defra, on behalf of the UK Government, for the first time in 2007.  Some of these questions are now being included in other major government surveys, which will not only provide updates on life satisfaction but enable life satisfaction measures to be investigated alongside other aspects of life. 

Where results on aspects of life are reported, it should be noted that in isolation the survey results presented should not be regarded as the primary source of data on some of the issues covered.  Other data sources may have been specifically designed to gather information on particular aspects of life.  The purpose of the survey questions was to be able to bring these aspects together within the overall context of life satisfaction.

Wellbeing is also a UK Framework indicator, shared by the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Measures presented here predominantly relate only to England. The UK Government and Devolved Administrations will continue to work together to integrate wellbeing measures into the UK Framework Indicators.

Child wellbeing

Measures that are broadly equivalent to selected wellbeing measures for adults have been compiled as measures of child wellbeing.  These are based on questions from the 2008 and 2009 “Tell Us” surveys of nearly 250,000 children in school years 6, 8 and 10, run by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the Department for Education.

Positive mental health

Some results from work done by the National Health Service in  Scotland on positive mental health are presented  as an initial stage in developing agreed measures of positive mental health.



Updated: 30 July 2010