November 6, 2023

Wellbeing gap between young and old identified in major study – Lack of trust in UK political system revealed across society

by Carnegie UK

Older people in the UK report a higher quality of life than their younger counterparts, according to landmark Carnegie UK and Ipsos research based on a survey of more than 6900 people.  

The new Life in the UK Index measures the wellbeing of the people of the UK by examining answers to questions across social, environmental, economic, and democratic themes. The study found older people (55+ years) scoring more positively across each theme than younger age groups (16 to 54 years).  

Carnegie UK argues that government should work to close the gap between these age groups by delivering policies designed to boost the wellbeing of younger people. The organisation believes that the new index is the largest independent study of the collective wellbeing of the people of the UK. 

Sarah Davidson, chief executive of Carnegie UK, said: “Our new Life in the UK index highlights an alarming gap between the life experience of young and old in our country.  

“The detailed research shows that if you’re a person under the age of 55 in the UK, you’re more likely to find yourself in economically precarious circumstances and to feel as though you’ve no-one to rely upon in your neighbourhood. Younger age groups report poorer air quality and a lack of local green space, and these citizens are more likely to be politically disaffected.  

“UK decision-makers need to work harder to close the wellbeing gap between young and old. While that means looking at tax and welfare policies, we must also look at new ways of hardwiring younger people’s interests and priorities into our public policy.” 

The research also found a widespread lack of trust across all age groups in the UK’s political systems and institutions, with only a minority of people feeling that they had influence over local or national decision-making. 

The survey work found that almost three quarters (73%) of people in the UK feel that they cannot influence decisions that affect the UK as a whole. Further, more than half (56%) of people disagree they can influence local decision-making and a similar proportion (52%) have a low level of trust in the UK Government. 

Sarah Davidson said: “The index shows the perilous state of UK democracy, with only a fraction of the population feeling that they can influence decisions that affect them.  

“This lack of trust has a corrosive effect on society, as without a strong relationship between the state and the citizen it becomes difficult to develop public policy which meets people’s needs. That’s why we believe that all spheres of government should roll-out initiatives like citizens’ juries and meaningful participatory budgeting to restore trust and increase transparency.” 

The Life in the UK Index is a three-year demonstrator project by the charitable foundation to measure the collective wellbeing of the people of the UK, looking at social, economic, environmental, and democratic aspects of life in the country. 

They argue that government in the UK needs to develop new measures of social progress to aid public policy decision-making and to complement gross domestic product (GDP). Their publication comes after weeks of revisions to GDP statistics of the UK’s economic performance since the pandemic. 

Sarah Davidson said: “The UK’s post-pandemic economic history has been rewritten because of recent revisions to GDP statistics. But these changes will be of little comfort to families who have been struggling with the realities of life since the covid crisis.  

“This disconnect shows why our policymakers need authoritative, up-to-date information about the wellbeing of our people to make good decisions. Without including these figures, our political and civic leaders are reliant on statistics that, at best, only tell half the story. 

“Our Life in the UK Index shows that it is possible to create a set of statistics that paints a much more complete picture of the lives that we’re leading.”


Notes to editors 

  • The Life in the UK Index has been devised to track the wellbeing of the UK’s people over time. The Index consists of an overall collective wellbeing score, calculated from a score for each of four themes: social, environmental, economic and democratic wellbeing. The score for each is based on several different survey questions relevant to that wellbeing theme. 
  • The Life in the UK Index is based upon a 26-question online survey of a representative UK sample of 6941 adults aged 16+ between 18-24 May 2023. The data was collected using the Ipsos UK KnowledgePanel, an online random probability panel which provides gold standard insights into the UK population, by providing bigger sample sizes via the most rigorous research methods.  
  • Data are weighted by gender, age, region, education, ethnicity, Index of Multiple Deprivation quintile, number of adults in the household, and community background (in Northern Ireland), to reflect the profile of the UK population. 
  • Details of the exact questions used to create the wellbeing scores are available in the report
  • The collective wellbeing score for the UK in 2023 is 62 out of a possible 100.  
  • A table breaking down the wellbeing scores across age groups and domains (or themes) can be found below. The results to individual survey questions can be found in the Focus on Age report 

Collective wellbeing and wellbeing domain scores by age 

  Age 16-34  Age 35 – 54  Age 55+ 
Collective wellbeing   59  60  65 
Social wellbeing   68  72  76 
Economic wellbeing   69  67  75 
Environmental wellbeing   58  62  68 
Democratic wellbeing   40  39  43 


  • The Life in the UK score for democratic wellbeing is substantially lower than all other wellbeing domain scores and brings down the overall collective wellbeing score for the UK considerably. Further analysis can be found in the UK summary report.   
  • Carnegie UK and Ipsos designed, developed and analysed the Index in partnership. The recommendations outlined in the Life in the UK Index report are Carnegie UK’s alone. 


Stuart Mackinnon: [email protected]