The UK is one of best places to live and work, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), although income inequality has risen by more than in other countries since the global financial crisis struck in 2007.
The Paris-based think-tank has been seeking to measure wellbeing for the 34 nations of the OECD, based on aspects of life such as incomes, education, housing and security. It says the UK ranks above the OECD country average on environmental quality, personal security, jobs and earnings and housing among other measures.
It is close to average for work-life balance, but below in education and skills.
That puts the UK alongside Switzerland, Australia, Nordic European countries, Canada and New Zealand in a clutch of highest-performing countries on the latest work for the OECD’s Better Life Index.
The think-tank’s “traffic light” system for how countries perform on various elements ranks the US, Ireland, Germany and France as average.
Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, Estonia, Hungary, Greece and Chile are among the countries with a relatively low performance.
Overall, the latest part of the OECD’s attempt to find new ways to measure wellbeing beyond simple GDP numbers, paints a picture of substantial pain caused by the financial crisis. “This report is a wake-up call to us all,” said OECD secretary-general Angel Gurra. “It is a reminder that the central purpose of economic policies is to improve people’s lives. We need to rethink how to place people’s needs at the heart of policy-making.”
The average British household was only “modestly” affected by the crisis, said the OECD, but looking across its club of mostly rich nations many people were blighted by higher unemployment, involuntary part-time work, financial insecurity and poverty.
“Life satisfaction and confidence in institutions declined substantially in countries severely hit by the crisis, while people reported soaring stress levels,” the How’s Life 2013 report says.
“However, there was little or no change in health outcomes for the population at large.”
Looking at the UK, the OECD says that over 2007 to 2011 there was a cumulative increase in real household disposable income of around 1%, while in the euro area, income dropped by 2%.
However, income inequality increased by more than average in the UK over that period.
The report adds: “In the OECD as a whole, the poor employment situation had a major impact on life satisfaction. This trend is not visible in the United Kingdom where, from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of British people declaring being very satisfied with their lives increased from 63% to 64%.”
In OECD countries most severely hit by the crisis, people’s trust in institutions and in the way democracy works had also declined during the crisis.
But the percentage of British people reporting that they trust the government increased from 36% to 47% between 2007 and 2011.
Looking at gender gaps in OECD countries, the research found British women were still less likely than men to have a paid job or be elected to parliament, and more likely to spend many hours performing household tasks.
Its analysis of the crisis suggested new forms of solidarity and engagement emerged in the countries that were hardest hit. This trend was less clear cut in the UK, however.
The percentage of people reporting having helped someone decreased by three percentage points while the share of people reporting having volunteered their time increased by three percentage points between 2007 and 2011.
When it comes to education and job prospects the UK lags behind.
On average the employment gap between those people in OECD countries with tertiary education and those with below upper secondary education had remained stable since 2000. But in the UK the gap had widened “substantially”.