Section 5: Recommended questions

Now that you’re clear about what you’re measuring and what you need to know, you can start to think about your questions. This section shows you some tried and tested questions about wellbeing and why they might be useful for your survey.

More from Julie

 Using the ONS questions

Julie looks at the four Office for National Statistics (ONS) questions about wellbeing. Her funders will approve of them because the government uses them. This is especially true for the funder of the exercise class – the local Clinical Commissioning Group – because it’s committed to improving personal wellbeing as part of its strategy.

Julie wants to compare the wellbeing scores of the people using the centre’s services to the average score for people using similar local authority services. She expects the centre’s score to be lower and hopes this will help her make a case for extra funding.

Julie doesn’t want to overload people with too many questions. So she decides to just include the ONS life satisfaction question to get an overall measure of wellbeing. And she’s going to do her survey at the start and end of the centre’s courses of activities to understand how wellbeing changes.

 

Using social capital questions

Julie decides to use the social capital questions to find out what makes a difference to people’s live across all the centre’s activities. In particular, she wants to know if members of the youth club feel a sense of belonging, and if the over-60s feel supported. 

SEE ALL OF JULIE’S STORY ON ONE PAGE

1. Four questions about subjective wellbeing from the ONS

The ONS does an Annual Population Survey (APS) that includes these four subjective wellbeing questions:

 

Get an overall picture: If your survey is long, and including these four questions would make it too long, you can just include the first question. It’s been used for decades around the world, so it’s a good indicator of overall wellbeing.

 

Why use the ONS questions in your survey?

They’re well thought out

The ONS developed the questions to make sure they make sense to as many people as possible, and don’t lead people to particular answers. So you can be confident using them.

Most people can answer them easily

As the questions make sense to most people, many can answer them without support. So you can use them in different survey formats – whether in person, online or on the phone.

They’re well used and recognised

The government uses and endorses the questions. So they’re recognised and respected by lots of funders and commissioners.

You can benchmark your data

The data the ONS collects is publicly available, and the average scores are broken down into categories like gender, ethnicity and geography. You can use their data as a benchmark for yours.

There’s more on the ONS wellbeing questions here.  Go to Section 9 for more on how to compare your results.

 

Use the same scales and wording: If you want to compare your results to the rest of the UK, you need to use the 0-10 scale, and the same wording for your questions. It will be more complicated to   compare if you use a different scale (eg 0-5) or categories (eg very satisfied, quite satisfied). And you won’t be able to compare at all if you change the wording of the questions.

2. WEMWBS

The WEMWBS questionnaires – or inventories – measure the feeling and psychological functioning aspects of wellbeing in a systematic way.

You can use the original long questionnaire (14 questions) or the short questionnaire (seven questions). The short one (SWEMWBS) is based on the long version. It has fewer feeling questions than the longer version. These questionnaires cover:

Optimism
Confidence
Competence
Relaxation
Cheerfulness
Resilience
Clear thinking
Relating to others
Autonomy

For both questionnaires responses to the questions are added together giving a single summary score which can make analysis easier, but it is important all the questions are answered.

The scales have been translated into various different languages and validated into different populations.

The questions are suitable for people aged 13 and over. They can be used with people with diagnosed mental illness, including those with psychotic disorders who have adequate capacity. They ask about people’s thoughts and feelings over the previous two weeks. The scales have also been translated into various different languages and validated into different populations, which can be accessed here.

All the answers together will give you one score. So if you want to measure psychological wellbeing, people need to answer all the questions.

Check our table to see if WEMWBS is right for you:

Why you might want to use WEMWBSSome things to bear in mind if you use WEMWBS
The questions have been tested and validated, so you can measure mental wellbeing reliably.There is national data available in England, Scotland and Wales for WEMWBS but this is not collected every year and is not available for local populations.
The questions are suitable for different populations, including people with psychotic disorders, and children aged 13-16.There’s national data available for the short version (gathered as part of Understanding Society and available on the National Wellbeing Dashboard) but it’s only updated every few years. See Section 9 for more on benchmarking.
The scale is widely used, endorsed by government and widely accepted by funders, especially to do with public health.You need to include all the questions and need to get answers to them all to get a score.
You can use it to encourage discussion as part of your programme – helping people think about where they are and where they want to be.You need to calculate a score for each personpread sheets are available on the (S)WEMWBS website to help you calculate your statistics.


If you use WEMWBS or SWEMWBS, you must register your use for copyright purposes.

To access the copyright statement, more important information about the ways WEMWBS has been used, and user guides, you can visit the website. You can also download the excel workbook for calculating WEMWBS scores and doing statistical tests.

3. Social capital questions

Measuring social capital

Social capital is about how people feel about their place in society, how they take part in society, and their relationships – their social wellbeing.

Here are some tried and tested ways of asking about people’s social wellbeing. These are all used in national surveys, so you can compare your data to the UK overall. Go to Section 9 for more on how to compare your results.

 

More about social capitalThere are other questions about social capital you can ask. The Community Life Survey includes questions about identity, social networks, community and volunteering. And you can find question wording suggestions, scales and benchmarking data for the UK here.

4. Other important measures

There are many other important measures of wellbeing. We’ve chosen some key areas that may be relevant for your activities.

Different concepts that contribute to subjective wellbeing

There are several other questions that look at specific concepts – or themes – within wellbeing. The European Social Survey includes a section on wellbeing with all the key concepts, and the questions to ask for each one:

  • Personal functioning and psychological resources
  • Resilience (bouncing back, stress resistance)
  • Autonomy and control
  • Engagement
  • Competence
  • Vitality
  • Self esteem
  • Optimism

If you use these questions and the scale from the survey, you can compare your starting point with the UK or other European countries. You’ll find the questions in our Survey builder

 

Different domains

You might want to ask questions about specific domains – aspects of people’s lives – that are relevant to your organisation. For example:

  • how satisfied are you with your housing?
  • how safe do you feel in your neighbourhood?
  • do you feel you are managing financially?

This might help you understand how important different parts of wellbeing are for the people you support.

Here are some examples of how you can measure domains in objective and subjective ways.

DomainObjective measuresSubjective measures
Where we liveHow many people are in stable, good-quality housing?How satisfied are people with their housing?
How many people have been affected by crime or antisocial behaviour?How safe do people feel in their neighbourhood?
Can people access the local services they need?Do people feel like they belong in their neighbourhood?
How many people can access green spaces locally?
What we doHow many people are employed?How satisfied are people with their job or volunteering role?
How many people volunteer regularly?
Our physical and mental healthHow many people have a long-term illness or a disability?How satisfied do people feel with their health?
How many people do at least 30 mins of physical activity a day?
Our relationships and social networksHow many people live alone?Do people feel happy in their relationships?
How often do people meet up with friends or family?Do people feel lonely?
Do people feel they have someone to rely on?
Our personal financeWhat’s the average household income?Do people report it when they have difficulty managing financially?
Our education and skillsHow many people access services to improve their skills or learn something new?Do people feel they have the knowledge and skills to achieve their goals?
Our trust in governance and ability to take part in democracyHow many people voted in the last election?Do people feel that elected leaders listen to them?
Do people feel they can influence local decisions?
The state of the wider economyAre we in recession?Do people feel the recession has affected their income?
Is inflation high?
The environmentHow clean is the air?Do people feel they can access green spaces?
How many green spaces are there?Are they satisfied with how clean their area is?
Our personal (subjective) sense of wellbeingHow satisfied are people with their lives overall?
How much do people feel the activities they do are worthwhile?
How anxious or happy do people feel?


Section 8 includes some standard ways of asking subjective questions, from UK and European surveys.

Read up: If you want to measure the wellbeing of your local area, our ‘Understanding local needs for wellbeing data: measures and indicators shows you how.

Measures for children and young adults

If you work with children or young adults, you may be able to use The Children’s Society’s questions from their Good Childhood Report.

The Education Endowment Foundation also gives some validated measures in the spectrum database (click on the link and then tick the ‘Mental health and wellbeing’ box on the left of their site).

More from Julie

 Using the ONS questions

Julie looks at the four Office for National Statistics (ONS) questions about wellbeing. Her funders will approve of them because the government uses them. This is especially true for the funder of the exercise class – the local Clinical Commissioning Group – because it’s committed to improving personal wellbeing as part of its strategy.

Julie wants to compare the wellbeing scores of the people using the centre’s services to the average score for people using similar local authority services. She expects the centre’s score to be lower and hopes this will help her make a case for extra funding.

Julie doesn’t want to overload people with too many questions. So she decides to just include the ONS life satisfaction question to get an overall measure of wellbeing. And she’s going to do her survey at the start and end of the centre’s courses of activities to understand how wellbeing changes.

Leaving out the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS)

Julie also considers WEMWBS. She wants to measure the impact of the three services against what matters to people across their whole lives. And as the scale has a psychological focus she decides not to include it.

However, she passes details of the scale to the coordinator of a charity that helps adults with mental health conditions gain confidence through art. She thinks it would be useful for their wellbeing evaluation.

Using social capital questions

Julie decides to use the social capital questions to find out what makes a difference to people’s live across all the centre’s activities. In particular, she wants to know if members of the youth club feel a sense of belonging, and if the over-60s feel supported. 

Ready to move on?