Is the UK really one of the worst places to live in Europe?

Guess which countries came top?

See the results of the uSwitch Quality of Life Index 2011

NB RESULTS NOW UPDATED

According to the latest uSwitch Quality of Life Index the UK and Ireland are the worst places to live in Europe, while France and Spain are the best.

The UK came 9th out of the 10 countries in the list – thanks to the fact that we pay the highest prices for food and diesel, work longer hours, retire later, get less annual holiday, enjoy fewer hours of sunshine and our government’s below average spending on health and education.  Oh, and just to round it off nicely we can expect to die two years younger than our French counterparts too.

What do you think of the results? Is living in the UK really that bad?

Join the conversation

  • Seamus

    “The UK came 9th out of the 10 countries in the list”.

    Can you clarify whether there are only ten countries in the index, or are they the top ten countries in Europe?

    • Lauren Pope

      Hi Seamus,

      To clarify – there are only 10 countries in the Index. They were selected on the basis that they were EU conutries with economies similar to our own.

      Hope this clears things up.

      Lauren

      • Seamus

        This is very interesting!

        Do you monitor other countries in Europe? Other economies might, over time, ‘qualify’ as being similar enough.

        You have Poland in there, but are others (like the Czech Republic, for example) too far out in terms of income?

        • Lauren Pope

          We aren’t monitoring the other countries at the moment though, but because our Index is based on research from other organisations who probably are monitoring them, there’s no reason why we couldn’t start including more countries in the future.

          Really glad to hear that you’re finding this interesting!

  • M. Sheridan

    Since we all know that there are extreme regional disparities as regards sunshine, population density and other numbers these tables are only a starting point.

    Before commenting further I would like to know how the figure for Household Income after Tax is arrived at. Does it include benefit payments etc.?

    I can find no reference as regard to sources of information as a footnote to the page containing the comparison tables.

    • Lauren Pope

      Hi,

      Below are the footnotes from our press release, which will provide more information on where our data comes from:

      1. Quality of Life Index research was conducted by Research Insight in August 2010 with further analysis conducted by uSwitch.com based on the following standardisation methodology: A standardised score for each variable across each country was calculated based on the following: Standardised score = (raw score – average)/standard deviation. For example, average net income across all countries is £34,858.20 and the standard deviation (average distance from the mean) was £6,513.02. Net income in Denmark is £39,997. Standardised score = (39,997 – 34,858.20)/ 6,513.02= 0.79. As this represents the distance between the raw score and the average, when the standardised score is negative, the raw score falls below the mean, and when positive, the score falls above. Overall Quality of Life is defined as the sum of the standardised scores.
      2. Net income after taxes (in GBP) from OECD – based on two-earner married couple, one at 100% of average earnings and the other at 33%, 2 children.
      3. Standard VAT rates come from Eurostat.
      4. Average working hours info from OECD
      5. Number of hours with sunshine per month – source was http://www.solarventi.com, except for France: http://www.the-france-page.com.
      6. Average exit age from the labour market – stats from Eurostat.
      7. Holiday entitlements are a sum of statutory minimum holidays and public holidays in days per year. Source: Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Eurostat, Federation of European Employers
      8. Figures for health and education spending come from Pocket World of Figures 2010 edition – The Economist
      9. Unleaded petrol costs in GBP per litre – Eurostat – average cost for first half of 2010
      10. Unleaded diesel costs in GBP per litre – Eurostat – average cost for first half of 2010
      11. Average national price without tax for first half of 2009 for medium size household – stats from Eurostat.
      12. Average national price without tax for first half of 2009 for medium size household – stats from Eurostat.
      13. Alcohol prices – harmonised consumer prices for alcoholic beverages. Includes wine and beer – stats from Eurostat.
      14. Food prices – harmonised consumer prices based on the following basket of food: cereals, meat (total), fish and seafood, milk, cheese, eggs, fats and oils, fruit, vegetables, sugar, jam, honey, chocolate and confectionary, food products – stats from Eurostat.
      15. Cigarette prices – stats from http://www.the-tma.org.uk
      16. Life expectancy – stats from CIA World Factbook 2010

      I hope this helps!

      Lauren

  • Andrew

    I was in Northern France recently and we found the supermarket shopping more expensive – all things from meat to veg to juice was more expensive than England. The only thing cheaper was the French beans.

    Where did you shop?? Or is Northern France just more expensive??

    • Lauren Pope

      Hi Andrew,

      The food statistics are based on the price of a basket of food including cereals, meat (total), fish and seafood, milk, cheese, eggs, fats and oils, fruit, vegetables, sugar, jam, honey, chocolate and confectionary, food products in all the different countries. I’m not sure about regional prices I’m afraid!

      Lauren

    • Antoine

      Hello,
      the food is globally more expensive in France than in UK. (I am French, and worked or lived in Germany and UK). the quality and the diversity of choice in better in France than in UK (according to me: higher norms, more fields in neighbourhood, ..). Moreover a lot on French people don’t buy only food in Supermarket, but also direly to the productor, where the prices are lower.
      The food is indeed cheapest in the South, but the prices differencesare not the same than the diffebry between average UK and average fFrenchcost of food (according to my experience).

      The comparison is a quick done work. It takes over used indexes to classify systems. The indexes are, according to me, only an indicator. For example, if a country spent a lot of money in education, that doesn’t imply that it is efficiently used.

      We are all rich countries. The efficiency of the usage of money should be optimized to have better results than the neighbour. And the results of political choice/measure come only many years later.

      What is interresting in this study, is that the countries having the higher GDP per capita (or the lowest) are at the end of the ranking. I always thought that the public action should be strong on infrastructures and every domain were the nationnal interrests are important and where the work can be effiiently factorized. However I think also that the private initiative and collaboration should be be included to encourage creativity and inovation (which is missing in France, sometimes).

      French system was clearly more generous than many others, but it has changed since 10 years (so consequences are not visible yet). According to my experience, Germany offer the better possibilities and opportunities whatever is your initial social status. This is confimed by many other studies (including mipex, eurostat, ocde, pisa, council of europe’s complaint, student exchange programs, jobs opprotunity, housing’s costs …). In this way, I am a bit surprised to see France better ranked than Germany.

      some links:
      http://213.253.134.43/oecd/pdfs/browseit/9107042E.PDF (liberal oriented)
      http://www.ocde.org/ (liberal oriented)
      http://www.integrationindex.eu (UK oriented)
      http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/eurostat/home/
      http://www.finfacts.ie/costofliving.htm (bussines oriented)

      so study without value, for me, because comparing not signicative indexes.

  • M. Sheridan

    So the Numbers for Net Household Income after Tax are not an average figure for ALL households.
    If I am not mistaken the UK has (or did have) in each household, a far larger number of working 2nd earners than the rest of Europe.

    If so I believe the Household Income after Tax figures are not really comparable across Europe.

    In reality the “real” UK figure would be larger than other countries if a “real” figure was taken including actual 2nd earners.
    I also think employment/ benefit figures have a part to play here in order to make a true comparison

  • Louis

    I have always found food more expensive in France beit in shops or restaurants. It is far easier to find better quality food in the UK at a reasonable price than in France. Of course it is possible to find “cheap” food in France too, but the quality is more the desirable.

    Is the baskets based on a price per kilo/litre rather than a bottle of milk costing so much ? More and more shops in France are producing packing below standard weights…so the price technically doesn t increase until you look at the price per kilo.

    I also think a government can spend a lot on health but bear in mind the system in France only refunds 70% of a doctors bill the rest is paid by private insurance.

    Not really convinced that sunshione should be part of this kind of study, it is very abstract.

    Of course cigarettes and alcohol prices play a vital role, b ut it is also a public health reason. Is Spain or Italy such a good place to live because “fags” are cheap ?

  • Greg

    Some of these statistics are very dubious! Average household income in Poland at £34,000? I don’t think so – and I lived there long enough to have an idea. I don’t think many Poles would agree that the standard of living in their country was higher than in the UK – otherwise why would so many of them have moved to the UK?

    I’d also dispute the idea that all prices in the UK are higher. As several people have commented, the reality on the ground is often very different. For example, consumer goods are often much cheaper in the UK than on the continent…but these are missing from the comparison charts (whereas cigarettes, bizarrely, are included). I really get the impression that someone wanted to make a point and then hunted around for some evidence….

    • Rafal

      Right, I am Polish, and this seems plainly false. Where do the data come from?

  • Thomas in Norfolk

    This survey is not worth the effort which has been put into carrying it out. As someone who has lived in Spain and in France and has now returned to the UK the figures just do not add up and do not compare like with like. Yes fuel costs less in France but the overall cost of living is higher if one judges the weekly supermarket bill – in the UK our bill is around £80.00 per week – in France it was well over 100 Euros. Healthcare is better in France but if you are under retirement age it costs you money – our top-up insurance (necessary since the State only pays 70%) cost us over £100 per month – has this been added to the cost of living in this survey?

    You cannot compare sunshine hours country to country. France and Spain are much larger than the UK and the climate varies tremendously. North Western Spain gets more rain in a year than south eastern England and the annual rainfall on the Costa del Sol is higher than London. In France I would urge the people who organised this survey to try spending the winter in central France – it is cold, very cold.

    No, this survey like many others is designed to put the UK down.

  • M. Sheridan

    On further research and consideration, I am sure now that this piece of partial attempt at journalism is fatally flawed.

    Last year I spent a total of 6 months in Spain, France, Switzerland, Belgium and forays into Germany to shop away from Switzerland. On a budget less than mentioned for a UK household as well.
    I only felt poor in Switzerland.

  • R Lewis

    But at least in the UK you can find a shop open when you want one and they pretty well all understand the concept of customer service……..

  • Lauren Pope

    Hi Thomas and Louis,

    Your comments cross over on a couple of areas, so forgive me for the joint reply.

    The food comparison is like-for-like, e.g. it is based on what 500ml of milk costs in each country. Of course in every country, there are cheaper and more expensive places to shop, but this is all based on averages.

    The comparison on healthcare is based on the % of GDP spent – we have not factored in what it costs the individual, so for example prescription costs in the UK aren’t part of it either.

    Sunshine is a slightly abstract concept, but it does have an impact on mood and on your lifestyle! And again, this is an average for each country, because most countries have wildly differing weather between their different regions.

    We don’t claim that the survey is over-arching look at every living cost and factor that has an impact of quality of life – we’ve focussed on 16 key areas to give an overview, and the results were always going to be controversial!

    Lauren

  • M. Sheridan

    “2. Net income after taxes (in GBP) from OECD – based on two-earner married couple, one at 100% of average earnings and the other at 33%, 2 children.”

    The only way I can reconcile these numbers is if I take the average UK wage £25,000 + £8,333 = £33,333 and include an exchange rate of about €1.18/ £.

    This gives around €38900 and still no Tax paid.

    Something seriously wrong here.

    • Lauren Pope

      Hi,

      The stats for household income are post-tax and in GB£, so that’s based on an average UK wage of £27879. I’m afraid I’m not sure I understand where the Euro exchange rate comes in!? If you want to discuss this in more detail, please feel to email me at editor @ uswitch.com.

      Lauren

  • Edward

    This is interesting but doesn’t really measure quality of life. Almost half of the factors included are the cost of various items which inevitably will be somewhat correlated with earnings and therefore are weighted too highly in a quality of living measure. A country where earnings are lower is likely to have lower costs for most items and therefore would probably score quite highly in this measure. It is also slightly unfair to say the UK is one of the worst places to live in Europe when you have measured less than a quarter of the countries in Europe.

  • Mike, Warsaw

    This is a huge misunderstanding, an average Polish family income after taxes assuming this methodology (one person earns 100%, the other 33% of the national average) is just 48 000 PLN which makes roughly 12 000 GBP.

  • Alistair

    Good work guys
    Although the results will be controversial – you have chosen a good range of factors .
    It would be interesting to see what these factors would have resulted in for say the last 5/10 years and interesting to see where they go in the next few.
    Thanks

  • From_Poland

    I’m sure you made a mistake. Household income in Poland is much more below £34,000. Using your methodology and Polish stats it would be about £8,500.

  • Alec

    Being a Brit myself, but finally managing to escape to France some 5 years ago, I have to agree with the findings of this survey. However, if you think UK bureaucracy is bad, then similar institutions over here will leave you gasping at the complete and utter indifference to the consequences of their monumental cock ups.

  • Peter

    Come on look at the prices of food in Poland and life expectancy that’s is the worst place. I wondering why i still driving my car (i should push it) :P

  • inpsm

    There is an important flaw in the second chart. The net household income for Poland is way too high. At the bottom of the page, it is claimed that “net income after taxes (in GBP) from OECD – based on two-earner married couple, one at 100% of average earnings and the other at 33%, 2 children”.
    The official national average earning in Poland is slightly less than 3200 zl (exactly 3 165,14 zl; zl is an abbreviation for zloty, the Polish currency). A pound is worth – rougly about – 4,6 zl. So, 3200 + 1/3 of 3200 gives us 4266 zl. That amount times twelve month in a year gives us 51 192 zl, which – divided by 4,6 rate of exchange to GBP – provides us with the final amount of 11 129 British Pound sterling. As you can see, that amount is nowhere near the value stated by the uSwitch. Unfortunately, it also shows that the costs of living in Poland are compareable to those in the Western countries, while the earnings are not.

    • Tomasz

      exactly!

  • Laura

    I’m sorry but I can’t believe you have been allowed to publish such biased and unfair data! The current Spanish unemployment rate is 20%! Do you not think that may just effect their quality of life?

    It makes me very sad that organisations such as yours print such ridiculouslness as this and everyone pays attention.

    Our country is great and you certainly can’t compare it with countries like Spain or Poland!

  • lmpk

    I wanted to write about the miscalculated incomes for Poland but it seems everything has been already said :P

    But thanks for that you have been noticed by a Polish website, gazeta.pl ;)
    http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/Wiadomosci/1,80277,8413200,Brytyjski_portal__Polska_czwarta_w_rankingu_jakosci.html#opinions
    There’s a poll going on there, “Do you think Poland deserves such a high place in the ranking?” 62% answered that it’s rubbish, 15% “not really” and 25% “Yes, we’ve been doing well lately”.

  • lmpk

    13% not 15%. It wouldn’t be 100% in total.

  • John Brindley

    I fail to see how you come up with that ranking using the data you did. It must be a very skewed algorithm.

  • Tom

    How about factoring in some other issues which would make the UK move up the chart? eg cost and availability of broadband (v bad in spain), bureaucracy, availability of work / unemployment (again – much better in the Uk than most of the other countries). Quality of life is not all about sun, booze and food.

  • aimmar, Poland

    this article is full of mistakes!
    I am from Poland and for instance: I know for sure, we do not have 38 days of holidays per year, and the annual income is lower too (unfortunatelly).

    now i am just curious if this post will be published…

  • Joe

    Oh God, you put Poland on 4′th and UK on ninth place! Surely, 2.5million poles who moved the other way have chosen wrong.

    Just for your information, major Polish newspaper ran with the story and you’re now a laughing stock of entire 38million people country.

    This textbooks example how not to do statistics. As inpsm mentioned – you f****d up average earnings (I bet you just forgot to convert PLNs to EUR and assumed every country in UE besides glorious UK has euro…). I also fail how having under-financed health sector is plus (yup, I’m pointing out the fact that amount of spending, without considering intrinsic efficiency of system doesn’t mean absolutely anything). Or how average food prices mean anything (it’s the average quality of food that matters, not price; compare bread in UK and Poland – totally different recipes and regulations).

    • aimmar, Poland

      don’t really know what is the point of bread quality comparison you made – considering that the bread in Poland is much better (it has far less preservatives and does not feel like chewing gum while eating…).

      apart from that, good observation about inadequate position of Poland in ranking, comparing to reality (migration etc.)

  • Miglantz

    You stated that Household Income after tax in Poland is 34,433 UK pounds, which means that you are very, very wrong. You are off by about 300% and my only question is why do you publish such an idiotic data and draw idiotic conclusions from it as well?

  • Piotr Kaminski

    You can download static report form ouer central statistic office .
    http://www.stat.gov.pl/gus/5840_685_ENG_HTML.htm

    Because what you wrote it is a lie .

  • lukasz

    hi. I come from Poland and one thing I can tell you is that family net income of 34000 pounds is absolute joke. Average adult net income is about 28000 zloty, which is around 6000 pound. Taking your methology, net family income would be 6000 x 1.33 equals 8000 pounds per year. That would make things slightly diffrent for Poland, wouldnt it ?

    • Adam33pl

      As a Pole living in the UK I can only confirm what Lukasz said. The average net family income in Poland is about 8000 pounds per year. Now when one realises that the cost of living in Poland is more or less equal to other western European countries (only accommodation is much cheaper) but earnings are of about a quarter of earnings in these countries one will understand why so many Poles emigrated abroad (just try to live for a few months for a quarter of your current earnings). By the way, it was a few months ago that nearly all of the biggest UK newspapers heralded that a huge numbers of Poles had come back to Poland as the living conditions had improved in Poland so enormously that living in the UK didn’t make any sense to us…

  • Kevin Riley

    Countries in Europe? Or countries in EU? I don’t see Switzerland on the list.

  • Paul

    Utter nonsense.
    If you’d like to see more reliable ranking please see:
    http://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/15/interactive-infographic-of-the-worlds-best-countries.html

    And as others pointed – Polish income is 3 x less then the one you’ve used.

  • Lauren Pope

    Thanks for all the comments about our stats for the average earnings in Poland – we’re checking this with our researchers now.

    • Tomasz

      great :)

    • Mike, Warsaw

      How about cutting the running costs, getting rid of the reserachers, and publishing rubbish on your blog before you publish it anywhere else or sell it? It’s apparent people will correct it anyway.

  • Brian

    I like how the writer complained about the cost of cigarettes in the UK vs. Poland right below the Health Section………Smoke less and your government wont have to pay so much for cancer patients, then they have moeny to spend on prevention programs.

  • Meles meles

    Some of the numbers will change soon as Retirement ages are extended. I have lived in a number of European countries. For most of the above it would be possible to construct a scale that ranked each as the best or worst. The public transport in the Netherlands is the best but it’s an overcrowded country with tiny houses and the concept of service is still an alien notion and you can told off in the language of your choice. How about measuring the friendliness of the people, how much they give to charity, how many die alone, the proportion living hopeless lives on welfare — things like that, not how many hours it takes to earn a flat screen TV. Ireland and the UK are only superficially similar. Measuring the amount spent on education misses the point — the Irish workforce is far better educated.

    It would have been useful to show EU averages in the tables. The omission of Portugal and others suggests the comparison was designed to achieve a particular result. If not it’s still consistent with one national characteristic of the British — being Europe’s greatest whingers.

    The Economist and UNDP and the CIA all produce indices like this. What matters is not so much the current position, which differs from one index to the next, but the trend over time. The UK is slowly falling down international league tables as it’s overtaken by others. And the US is following suit, for now.

    However, it seems to me that the UK has discovered adult politics lately and America the exact opposite.

  • Peter

    The data about Polish family net income must have been uSwitched completely…

  • Greeder

    This Net income is really, really funny :D
    Up to my knowledge average net sallary in Poland is about £6000.
    Based on Polish Central Statistical Office data and current exchange rates.
    Your data are corrupted.

  • Lauren Pope

    Hi everyone,

    We’ve spoken to the researchers who have confirmed that they did take the Polish net household income in Euros rather than in Zloty.

    Obviously both they and we are very sorry for this. We’ve now redone our calculations and the tables – it doesn’t change the top and bottom rankings, but Poland’s position does change – slipping down one place to 5th, just behind Germany.

    All we can say is we’re sorry and thanks very much for pointing it out to us – we will definitely be bearing this in mind for next year!

    Lauren

  • lukasz

    one factor is price of diesel and another price of petrol ? Throw in your basket engine coolant and screenwash and Poland will come out top of the list ! Perhaps you should measure how many lieteres of petrol or diesel an average income will buy you in each country ? Just like you did with health and education spendings as percentage of each country’s GDP. This survey is a total blunder, im surprised you are still defending it

  • Greg

    Are you still claiming that Poland has a better quality of life than Sweden or the Netherlands, let alone the UK? I love Poland – it’s a great country – but I don’t think anyone could realistically say it had a better quality of life than Western European countries, especially given that you base your findings on very selective, mostly economic data. As I mentioned, previously it seems that someone wanted to reach a conclusion and then hunted round for some statistics, rather than the other way round. Why on earth is the price of cigarettes relevant in a survey on quality of life? As others have suggested, the national unemployment rate should have been included.

    I don’t think this study is controversial; I think it’s wrong. Interestingly, very few commentators has posted to say they agree with the findings….

  • Johan uk

    Whilst there may be a one or two points of contension with the figures, the results are in line with similar surveys and confirm a general trend.

    Also, many aspects are not included because they are hard to quantify but have a huge impact on quality of life in my experience; for example the complete erosion of community spiritedness and social cohesion in many of UK’s larger towns and cities. One big factor which certainly would be easy to measure is overcrowding.

  • Quantum

    Quality of Life, analyses based on the Alcohol Prices? You must be joking!

  • john

    having had some experience living in different places in Europe, i fear that this is serious misinformation. I read the article from yahoo news, which means it is misinformation for the masses. A lot of the stresses on the average families in the different nations have been seriously ill-perceived. The larger mistakes are the financial and socioeconomic ones, but i will make a more simple example: Most parts of southern Europe have a number of weeks, in some place even months above 36 degrees C. and the average house does not have air conditioning. Are these good quality of life sunshine hours?

  • ciekawe artykuly

    Uwielbiam czytac twoje artykuly.

  • Mercian

    As others have pointed out, this report is seriously flawed. There are many
    other measures that could have been used, and some that should not have been -
    e.g. both petrol and diesel price (as pointed out above). Whichever measures
    had been used there would be room for disagreement.
    The only way that I can think of that would make a survey of this type mean
    anything at all would be if you first asked the people which factors they
    themselves felt affected their quality of life, and then measured those things.

  • rhyso

    yes

  • http://www.facebook.com/ian.steven.7 Ian Steven

    These surveys are pointless, depends on the individual doesn’t it and your own life.I love it in the UK .But then i’m happily married , happy children in a good school,healthy (so far) , run a successful business and live in a nice friendly place.

  • onlyinUK

    yes…if you are the middle income earner…working longer hours to meet your basic needs…paying taxes so that the poor families can get benefits from the gov’t without working….because they can practically live from benefits and will get more money instead of working…

  • The stat man

    How old are those figures!!! VAT = 17.5%?? Diesel = 1.18ppl??? those must be over 5 years old. How about today!!!!

  • merry poppins

    it’s one of the worst places in the world. one of the shittiest nations too.

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