If it makes you happy… What role does subjective wellbeing play in Levelling Up?

The Government promised to make a legal commitment to increasing wellbeing and reducing disparities in it across the UK. This paper considers how subjective wellbeing fits with the rest of the levelling up strategy, especially in relation to places that are prosperous, healthy and well educated, but nevertheless have low wellbeing.


  • Improving and equalising subjective wellbeing is not just one of the 12 Levelling Up missions, but – along with raising living standards – is presented by the Government as one of two fundamental missions.
  • Yet there seems to be a tension between promoting prosperity and supporting mental wellbeing:
    • On average, places that are richer tend to have lower subjective wellbeing: large parts of Northern Ireland, Wales, and the South West are relatively content, whereas many London Boroughs are among the least happy places in the UK.
  • The implications for the Government’s Levelling Up strategy are unclear:
    • It could restrict its focus to areas like Blackpool and Thanet that rank poorly for both wellbeing and other metrics, but this would substantially scale back the project
    • It could treat ‘economic’ and ‘psychological’ levelling up as two separate projects, but if so it needs to better flesh out what psychological levelling up looks like
    • It sometimes appears to favour an indirect strategy of trying to raise wellbeing in places like London by making other places more attractive to live and thus ‘relieving pressure’.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should investigate the drivers of differences in subjective wellbeing between different areas, and develop a more targeted plan for closing disparities.


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