Britons are LESS happy than during pandemic: More people worry about their health and feel lonely

Britons are less happy now than they were during some parts of the pandemic, shock official figures show.

More people are concerned about their physical and mental health than they were in mid-2020, just months after the coronavirus outbreak sent the country into its first lockdown.

And Britons are struggling more with relationships and loneliness than ever before. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been surveying thousands of Britons about their life satisfaction for more than a decade.

Latest figures show just three in 10 (30 per cent) rated their happiness as ‘very high’ in the first three months of this year — lower than most of 2021 and three months of 2020.

Positivity levels peaked at 34 per cent around the original ‘Freedom Day’ in July 2021 — when the final Covid restrictions from the previous winter were eased.

Results suggest there are rising concerns about health, with 47 per cent saying they are happy with their health, compared to 51 per cent pre-pandemic. 

More people have also reported feeling more anxious than they did pre-pandemic (two-third), while loneliness (one in 15) and anxiety (two-thirds) are also on the rise.

Statisticians note that the happiness and anxiety figures only cover up to the spring, while the others go to 2021, so don’t cover the whole pandemic or recent cost of living crisis that is expected to cause misery for millions.

Spiralling food and energy bills are ‘becoming a major source of concern for the public’ which can be expected to knock down people’s attitudes, the ONS said. 

However, the agency found that people ‘feel well connected’ to those around them, while people are reporting better job satisfaction and work/life balance.

In the first three months of 2022, the ONS asked thousands of over-16s: ‘Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?’ The results, shown on the graph, reveal just three in 10 people (30.5 per cent) rated their happiness as ‘very high’. The rate is lower than at several points in the last two years, when the country was gripped by the coronavirus

The newly-published happiness data is part of the ONS quality of life in the UK survey. Results also show that anxiety is now higher than it was compared to some points of the pandemic. Just a third of people (34.1 per cent) in the first quarter of the year rated their anxiety as 'very low' ¿ fewer than the two previous summer (bottom right). Meanwhile, overall life satisfaction and feelings of worthwhile have dropped off (top left)

The newly-published happiness data is part of the ONS quality of life in the UK survey. Results also show that anxiety is now higher than it was compared to some points of the pandemic. Just a third of people (34.1 per cent) in the first quarter of the year rated their anxiety as ‘very low’ — fewer than the two previous summer (bottom right). Meanwhile, overall life satisfaction and feelings of worthwhile have dropped off (top left)

The proportion of people who are in 'fairly' or 'extremely' unhappy relationships has increased from 3.6 per cent in 2015/16 to 4.3 per cent in 2019/20 (top graph). And the rate reporting that they feel lonely 'often' or 'always' increased from 5.4 per cent in 2016/17 to 6.5 per cent in 2020/21 (bottom graph). But the ONS says the 'incremental' jumps are not statistically significant, with the trend largely flat

The proportion of people who are in ‘fairly’ or ‘extremely’ unhappy relationships has increased from 3.6 per cent in 2015/16 to 4.3 per cent in 2019/20 (top graph). And the rate reporting that they feel lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’ increased from 5.4 per cent in 2016/17 to 6.5 per cent in 2020/21 (bottom graph). But the ONS says the ‘incremental’ jumps are not statistically significant, with the trend largely flat

How lockdown lifestyles have changed Britons’ habits

People are exercising and socialising more than they did before the pandemic, according to new official figures that reveal the changing habits of Britons after lockdown.

As more people continue to work from home and cut out the daily commute, they’ve also found more time for gardening, DIY and housework.   

But questions about productivity remain, as time spent watching TV, reading books and playing video games is up while studying is down. 

The way people use their time each day has been studied since 2014/15 in the UK by the Office for National Statistics (ONS ), with the latest figures up to March 2022, when most Covid restrictions were lifted. 

The average Briton now spends 25 minutes per day keeping fit, six minutes more than in 2014/15. More people took up exercise to fight boredom during lockdown. 

There was also thought to have been a renewed interest in physical health during the pandemic.

People now spend about five hours per day entertaining themselves —  which includes spending time with friends or family, browsing the internet and texting — 17 minutes more than in 2014/15. 

Britons have also found an extra three minutes to spend on gardening each day in that time, with the average person doing about 20 minutes per day now.

Housework also got a time boost from 2014/15, with the average person now dedicating two-and-half hours per day to chores like food shopping and walking the dog, an extra three minutes compared to pre-pandemic.

Britons appear to have crawled back the time by cutting out commuting and ditching the office in favour of working from home. 

In the first three months of 2022, the ONS asked 27,430 over-16s: ‘Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?’

At the time of the survey, the Omicron wave was on the decline and Plan B measures — with masks, Covid pass and work from home guidance in place — were being phased out.

Just three in 10 people (30.5 per cent) rated their happiness as ‘very high’.

The rate is lower than at several points in the last two years, when the country was gripped by the coronavirus.

Between July and October 2020, 32.5 per cent of people reported they felt very happy.

The summer months saw the first Covid restrictions ease, with pubs, restaurants and bars allowed to reopen for the firs time since March.

By August, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched his ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, offering half-price meals for those who ate in at restaurants. Later that month, further indoor activities, such as theatres and bowling allies, were allowed to reopen.

However, the easing of rules was short-lived as by mid-September, the ‘rule of six’, work from home rules and 10pm curfews for pubs and restaurants were imposed.

Between October 2020 and March 2021, happiness dropped to their lowest levels since records began in 2011, as the Alpha strain took off, the UK faced two back-to-back lockdowns, people were kept apart from friends and family at Christmas and the NHS faced its biggest wave of Covid hospitalisations.

But happiness rebounded to 33.8 per cent between April and July 2021 as the UK came out of its third national lockdown.

At this point, shops, pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen and Britons were able to go on staycations and attend large outdoor events, like football stadiums and concerts. 

In the final step of reopening, on July 19, nightclubs and large events ran at full capacity for the first time in over a year, while work from home guidance came to an end.

Happiness stayed high (33.6 per cent) between July and October as the UK learned to live with the virus.

But it sharply dropped off (30.6 per cent) in the last quarter of the year, as the Omicron variant emerged and officials considered bringing in another Christmas lockdown, as cases soared to a then record 6.8million, according to ONS estimates.

The most recent happiness surveillance results for the start of 2022, show the figure fell further (30.5 per cent) as Britons remained concerned about sky-high infection rates and the cost of living crisis started to bite.

Despite Covid once again fading into the background, soaring prices and concerns of the worst NHS crisis in history this winter may see happiness plummet further later in the year. 

Current happiness levels are below pre-Covid levels, with 40 per cent of Britons, on average, reporting ‘very high’ levels in the five years to March 2020. 

Happiness, according to the ONS, peaked between April and July 2018 — when the national living wage increased, the UK experienced it’s hottest May on record and England logged their biggest ever World Cup game victory.

Separate figures show that less than half of people (46.9 per cent) report being 'mostly' or 'completely' satisfied with their health in 2019/20, down from 49.6 per cent in 2014/15. And Britons are becoming less active

Separate figures show that less than half of people (46.9 per cent) report being ‘mostly’ or ‘completely’ satisfied with their health in 2019/20, down from 49.6 per cent in 2014/15. And Britons are becoming less active

Just six in 10 over-16s (60.9 per cent) said they do the NHS-recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week in 2020/21, compared to 62.8 per cent in 2019/20

Just six in 10 over-16s (60.9 per cent) said they do the NHS-recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week in 2020/21, compared to 62.8 per cent in 2019/20

ONS data shows how people now have more time for exercise and entertainment and socailsing, gardening and housework than pre-pandemic driven, in part, by saving time on the daily commute by working from home

ONS data shows how people now have more time for exercise and entertainment and socailsing, gardening and housework than pre-pandemic driven, in part, by saving time on the daily commute by working from home

The newly-published happiness data is part of the ONS quality of life in the UK survey.

Results also show that anxiety is now higher than it was compared to some points of the pandemic. Just a third of people (34.1 per cent) in the first quarter of the year rated their anxiety as ‘very low’ — fewer than the two previous summer.

Meanwhile, overall life satisfaction and feelings of worthwhile have dropped off.

The proportion of people who are in ‘fairly’ or ‘extremely’ unhappy relationships has increased from 3.6 per cent in 2015/16 to 4.3 per cent in 2019/20. 

And the rate reporting that they feel lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’ increased from 5.4 per cent in 2016/17 to 6.5 per cent in 2020/21. But the ONS says the ‘incremental’ jumps are not statistically significant, with the trend largely flat.

Separate figures show that less than half of people (46.9 per cent) report being ‘mostly’ or ‘completely’ satisfied with their health in 2019/20, down from 49.6 per cent in 2014/15.

A survey earlier this year suggests that the trend has continued to decline, with 55 per cent of Britons reporting that the cost of living crisis — especially rising heating, food and transport costs — has harmed their health.

And Britons are becoming less active. Just six in 10 over-16s (60.9 per cent) said they do the NHS-recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week in 2020/21, compared to 62.8 per cent in 2019/20.

And there is ‘some evidence’ depression and anxiety has increased, from 17.4 per cent in 2018/19 to 21.8 per cent in 2019/20.

However, Britons ‘appear to feel well connected’ as nine in 10 ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they can rely on those around them, while two-thirds ‘in general’ trust most people, the statisticians said.

‘These are both metrics of social capital. High levels of social capital support a well-functioning society and can be expected to support national well-being,’ the ONS added.

And six in 10 people (58.4 per cent) say they are ‘mostly’ or ‘completely’ satisfied with their jobs, while 45 per cent are happy with the amount of leisure time they have. The figures are in line with recent years but has been steadily improving over the last decade.

Tim Vizard, a statistician at the ONS, said the figures provide ‘a rounded picture of how the UK is doing’.

He said: ‘While some areas show improvements since the height of the pandemic, personal well-being, for example, continued to remain below its pre-pandemic levels.

‘Data up to 2019 to 2020 had shown improvements in people’s satisfaction with household income, however, rising inflation, and the cost of living crisis, is becoming a major source of concern for the public and can be expected to have an impact on people’s attitudes and financial well-being in the immediate future.’

It comes after the ONS shared separate data earlier this week, which showed people are exercising and socialising more than they did before the pandemic, as well as doing more gardening, DIY and housework.   

But questions about productivity remain, as time spent watching TV, reading books and playing video games up while studying is down.  

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