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Report reveals leisure time and satisfaction with health are biggest influences on wellbeing of Londoners

A new report co-authored by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London and think tank Centre for London found that the four factors which have the strongest influence on wellbeing in the capital are:

  • how satisfied people are with their health
  • how satisfied people are with their leisure time
  • whether they’re employed, and if so how much freedom they have about how they do their work
  • the level of social cohesion in their neighbourhood

Of these factors, leisure time satisfaction was ranked as the single most important influence on Londoners’ wellbeing. Those satisfied with their leisure time tended to have levels of wellbeing notably higher than those who were dissatisfied.

Together, these four factors explain almost 75 per cent of the variation in Londoners’ wellbeing which was observed in our statistical model. Importantly, they’re all areas that policy makers can target to improve Londoners’ lives.

The report combines academic analysis with practical recommendations and has identified the aspects of people’s lives that policymakers should prioritise when seeking to improve wellbeing for Londoners.

The report also stresses that levels of wellbeing are not consistent amongst all Londoners.  Londoners with high, and average, levels of household income generally find their wellbeing boosted more by the level of social cohesion in their neighbourhood than those with lower levels of household income. Furthermore, the association between wellbeing and satisfaction with health is stronger for Londoners with a disability or long-term condition than for others.

The report’s authors tracked wellbeing levels in London using data from Understanding Society, a United Kingdom-wide longitudinal study which asks the same people the same questions about their lives every few years. The analysis presented in the report largely relies on data collected between January 2018 and May 2020. Wellbeing is measured by asking respondents a number of questions, including: how relaxed they have been feeling recently and how optimistic they are about the future.

The survey’s large sample size of Londoners allowed for regression analysis to identify the key determinants of Londoners’ wellbeing. In doing so, four main areas were identified as variables that play a particularly important role in shaping London’s wellbeing levels.

If policy interventions to improve wellbeing in London are to be successful, policy makers need a clear idea of what influences Londoners’ wellbeing. This research identifies the factors that matter most to Londoners’ wellbeing and should be prioritised to target support at the people who need it most. Failing to pursue differential strategies which also recognise who has higher or lower wellbeing in London more generally risks entrenching or even worsening existing inequalities.

The report includes targeted recommendations to improve Londoners’ wellbeing, centred around the four key areas of satisfaction with health; satisfaction with leisure time; work and workplace autonomy; and social cohesion. These range from ensuring workers have adequate notice for shifts to funding local authorities to deliver local services such as older people’s day centres and children’s centres. Together, these recommendations form the authors’ call for London’s leaders to make wellbeing an explicit goal of public policy.

Josh Cottell, Head of Research at Centre for London said:

“Too many people in London and across the UK struggle to feel optimistic about their future, relaxed or connected to other people.

In the last few years, we have seen a welcome focus on wellbeing from parts of national, regional and local government.

This research reveals what’s driving wellbeing in London, providing clear priorities for policy makers to take steps to improve lives in the capital.

Policy makers must focus on enabling more people to feel satisfied with their health and their leisure time, find ways to bring about more jobs where people have control over how they do their work, and invest in London’s communities.”

Dr Elizabeth Simon, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Mile End Institute, said:

“Apart from personal factors which policymakers can’t change, like age, our analysis found four areas which have a particularly strong influence on Londoners’ wellbeing:

  • How satisfied people are with their leisure time
  • Whether people work, and if so, how much autonomy they have in how they do their work
  • How satisfied people are with their health
  • The level of neighbourhood social cohesion where people live

Implementing policy changes in these areas could be effective in improving Londoners’ wellbeing and making the capital a better place to live for all.

Policymakers must, however, be careful not to reinforce existing inequalities when they create new policies with the aim of improving wellbeing. Our report provides some guidance on how this situation can be avoided”