August 2, 2021

Loneliness and mistrust in government on increase as wellbeing declines

by Carnegie UK Trust

New ONS figures show an increase in loneliness, plummeting levels of trust in government and a fall in wellbeing in England as experts says GDP insufficient for post-pandemic recovery

A report published today by Carnegie UK has highlighted an increase in loneliness and a worrying decline in trust in government. The charity has called for an urgent rethink on the overemphasis on economic data to measure the post-pandemic recovery.

Carnegie UK proposes a new measure of national progress – Gross Domestic Wellbeing, or GDWe – to measure whether life is getting better or worse.

The latest Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe)[1] report from Carnegie UK is based on ONS data and found a drop in collective wellbeing in England had started even before the pandemic began. Findings include:

  • The latest GDWe score was 6.79 out of 10 for 2019/20, compared to 6.89 for 2018/19, its lowest level since 2015/16;
  • Wellbeing is falling in multiple measured areas including relationships and governance;
  • The number of adults in England feeling lonely has been increasing since 2017 and in the last year jumped by 44% (or 1.1m people) – an increase from 2.6m to 3.7m from October 2020 to February 2021;
  • Trust in government is at an-all time low following a nearly 40% drop from 2018/19 to 2019/20 (from 31% to 19%).

Using data from the ONS Measures of National Wellbeing Dashboard, Carnegie UK – in collaboration with Diffley Partnership – has developed a score for collective wellbeing in England by bringing together a range of data to create a single figure. This can be tracked over time to tell whether wellbeing is going up or down.

The new report comes ahead of the latest ONS GDP figures that are due to be published on 3 August and are expected to show the UK economy grew in the second quarter of 2021.

But the data will also show a decline in wellbeing, which started before the pandemic and continued to drop as the country entered its first national lockdown in March 2021. The charity predicts that when it reports on 2020/21 levels later this year, this decline will be shown to have continued.

Sarah Davidson, CEO of Carnegie UK, said:

“Historically, each time we emerge from any kind of crisis, the government’s focus is on driving the economic recovery.

“These latest figures on England’s wellbeing show we need to focus as much on the human recovery as on the economic one.

“COVID-19 has sparked new conversations and renewed existing ones about what exactly social progress is. We now have an opportunity to rethink how progress as a country captures the complexity of people’s lives and their wellbeing. GDWe offers an alternative, more human-focussed measure of a country’s progress and we urge policy makers to consider this on the road to recovery.”

Caroline Lucas MP said:

“The worrying decline in collective wellbeing is a sign that current government priorities just aren’t delivering for most people.  Official measures of success like GDP growth don’t translate into people feeling better about their lives.

 “Using Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe) instead of GDP growth as the guiding star for economic policy making would be a major step towards measuring what matters most to people and would ensure we build back fairer and greener from the pandemic.” 

Carnegie UK says the delay in the release of official data on England’s wellbeing must be addressed urgently. At the moment, there is a 17 month wait until ONS data on wellbeing is available, rather than the 8 month wait for economic data.

The charity points to a shaky road ahead once financial support schemes set up during the pandemic ends, and we see a predicted rise in evictions and repossessions made recently.

To combat this, Carnegie UK has developed six principles for the government to consider to enable a wellbeing approach to policy making, including devising a new relationship between central, regional and local government and a renewed focus on inequality and exclusion [2].


[1] About GDWe

Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe)™ offers a holistic alternative to GDP as a measure of social progress. Using the framework and data in the Office for National Statistics Measures of National Wellbeing Dashboard, Carnegie UK, in collaboration with Diffley Partnership have developed a tool to provide a single figure for GDWe in England.

The report covers 10 domains: Personal wellbeing; Our relationships; Health; What we do; Where we live; Personal finance; Economy; Education and skills; Governance; Environment.

[2] Six Principles

  1. Prevention: Taking a wellbeing approach requires problems to be identified and responded to before they become too entrenched and difficult to resolve or mitigate.
  2. Participatory Democracy: Taking a wellbeing approach requires the public to be engaged about what matters to them – wellbeing cannot be ‘done to’ people.
  3. Equalities: Wellbeing is challenged by inequality and exclusion, and there is a need to improve outcomes for equalities groups (primarily women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities).
  4. Localism: Taking a wellbeing approach requires a new relationship between central, regional and local government, based on a shared understanding of their objectives and allowing for local tailoring to suit the needs and priorities of individual communities.
  5. Integration of services: Taking a wellbeing approach requires a whole-of-government approach, going further than joined-up or interagency working to ensure that all stakeholders have the same vision and strategic priorities.
  6. Long-termism: Taking a wellbeing approach supports the principle that policy making should not benefit current generations at the expense of future ones.

About Carnegie UK

Carnegie UK works to improve the lives of people throughout the UK and Ireland, by changing minds through influencing policy, and by changing lives through innovative practice and partnership work. With a remit in our Trust Deed and Royal Charter to address the wellbeing of people throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland, we are one of over twenty foundations worldwide set up in the early twentieth century by Andrew Carnegie, the Scots-American philanthropist.