Dr. Jenny Peachey is a senior policy advocate for Carnegie UK. With Jennifer Wallace, she recently co-authored Life in the UK 2023, a multi-dimensional survey of wellbeing in the UK. Here she explains what it found – focussing on the growing gap in wellbeing between young and older people.
UK decision-makers need to work harder to close the wellbeing gap between young and old. Why? Because if you’re a person under the age of 55 in the UK, you’re more likely to find yourself in economically precarious circumstances and to feel as though you’ve no-one to rely upon in your neighbourhood. You’re also more likely to report poorer air quality and be politically disaffected.
How do we know this?
Carnegie UK’s new Life in the UK index is designed to provide an overall assessment of ‘how life is’. The index, developed with Ipsos, is based on a survey of more than 6900 people. The score of ‘how life is’ is an average of scores for four wellbeing domains: social, economic, environmental and democratic. One of the things we did with our findings was to compare the experiences of different demographic groups to better understand the inequalities in society. Sadly, if not unsurprisingly, there were many. One of the key things we found was a clear relationship between age and wellbeing scores: younger people experience worse social, economic, environmental, and democratic wellbeing than older people.
As age increases, so to do the scores for social wellbeing. This disparity is in part informed by how those aged 16 to 34 are more likely than those over 35 to report poorer mental health, feeling unsafe, not having someone to rely on in their neighbourhood and experience of discrimination.
In regard to economic wellbeing, those aged 55 and above are significantly more likely than younger age groups to agree that they can afford things like keeping their homes warm, providing enough food for everyone in their household, taking a week’s annual holiday away from home, socialising once a month outside the home and meeting an unexpected but necessary expense of £850.
As age increases, so too does the likelihood of having a higher score for environmental wellbeing. This is driven by how satisfaction with green or open spaces near the home increases as age increases, whilst the likelihood of reporting major or moderate problems with noise, air quality and litter decreases as age increases.
The lower democratic wellbeing scores for those aged 16 to 34 and 35 to 54 are informed by these groups being less likely to trust the legal system, the police and banks. Those aged 35 to 54 are also more likely to report low levels of trust than both younger and older age groups when it comes to the UK Government, local councils and the news media.
What does this mean?
There is a lot of excellent work by others that looks at what drives inequalities between people of different ages, be that around work and welfare failing to provide young people with economic security, wage stagnation affecting younger cohorts the most, or the steady decline in homeownership among younger people in stark contrast to the steady rate of ownership by the over–55s and increase in ownership by the over-65s. (While these issues are framed in terms of economics, money is of course an enabler for many things, including social connection and choice).
At Carnegie we believe that this means government should work to close the gap between age groups by delivering policies designed to boost the social and economic wellbeing of younger people. Meanwhile, tackling alienation from local and national decision-making, and increasing opportunities for meaningful participation, will need investment from political parties and governments across the UK. At a macro-level, we believe in making a case for the next UK Government putting a robust, holistic and comprehensive measure of social progress at the centre of its decision-making. Being able to make good policy decisions rests on good data that lets decision makers see ‘how life is’ for all of us.