If unemployed people have it easy, how come they’re so unhappy?
For years now we’ve been bombarded with stories about unemployed people having an easy life on benefits or that benefits are too high and discourage work. But the government’s new data on Wellbeing in the UK undermines this view: unemployed people are less happy than employed people, more anxious and less likely to feel their life is worthwhile.
Measuring subjective wellbeing is one of the Prime Minister’s pet projects and some progressives have been suspicious about it for that reason. But no-one can deny that it’s well-resourced: the results come from the Annual Population Survey and the dataset is 165,000 adults. Yesterday’s results come from the answers to four questions:
- Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
- Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
- Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
- Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
All are measured on a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely’ and the results put in four categories:
- Very low (0-4)
- Low (5 & )
- Medium (7 & 8 )
- High (9 & 10)
For each question the data show what percentage of unemployed people are in each category and what percentage of employed people. If we start with life satisfaction, 45 per cent of unemployed people gave low or very low scores, compared with 20 per cent of employed people:
The mean score for employed people is 7.51, that for unemployed people is 6.40; the only groups with lower scores are those whose health is bad (5.67) or very bad (4.50).
Unemployed people are more than twice as likely as employed people to give low or very low scores when asked if the things they do are worthwhile:
The mean score for people in employment is 7.78, that for unemployed people is 6.86, the only lower scores are for people with bad (6.33) and very bad health (5.45).
There is the same pattern for the question about how happy respondents were yesterday:
The mean score for employed people is 7.34; for unemployed people it is 6.71. Again, the only lower scores are for people with bad (5.75) or very bad health (4.61).
Finally, the picture for the question about how anxious respondents were yesterday is the reverse of the previous three:
The mean score for unemployed people is higher than for people in employment (3.48 against 3.06) but there are higher scores for people in fair, bad and very bad health and for people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Arabian origin.
The first point to draw from these figures is that they disprove the notion that unemployed people have an easy life. In fact, they are less likely to be satisfied with their lives, less likely to think what they do is worthwhile, less likely to be happy and more likely to be anxious.
Secondly, it is very unlikely that many people are choosing unemployment. Not unless large numbers are choosing to be unhappy, anxious and disatisfied with their lives.