Is the UK really the worst country to live in Europe?

The UK has been characterised as being the worst country to live in, in Europe, for quality of life, according to research published in September.

Comparison website “uSwitch” reported that despite higher than average household incomes, Britons seem to suffer from the second lowest hours of sunshine per year, high costs of living, smallest holiday entitlements, one of the highest retirement ages and a very weak spend on health. On the contrary, France has been on the top of the classification for the third year in a row.

However, comments following this survey came out criticising that this did not include every European country, that not every factor should be given the same weighting and that the results lacked credibility in general.

The UK is, for the first time, at the bottom of the classification for quality of life in comparison to 16 European countries.

Katherine Cooper, PR manager of the organisation “uSwitch” responded to those critiques stating that ‘it would be difficult to give different factors a different value’. Although, can we really give the same importance to, for instance, the household incomes and the hours of sunshine per year when determining the quality of life? This would mean that a poor family in a sunny European country would be likely to have the same or a similar quality of life than a rich family in a rainy country.

Moreover, the enjoyment of the weather is subjective by nature. It depends on everyone’s different taste, somebody could prefer living under a cold rainy sky rather than a warm sunny one. Marc Laurent, who lived in the UK for three years, thinks England would not be the same country as we know it without its famous fog and rain. He added that ‘the English landscape definitely makes up for the lack of sunshine’. The quality of landscape or nature in general in different countries is also not taken into consideration in this research.

The survey that “uSwitch” used for their study collected the opinion of over 2000 British adults and found out that the idea of being in a ”broken society” was the most negative point for 21% of them. On the other hand, the UK has always been praised for its enormous diversity in terms of religion, age, style, gender, sexual orientation and disability. This considerable and culturally rewarding melting pot is not taken into account in the research either. Mr. Laurent said the UK was a unique place to live in and was ‘one of the rarest countries that doesn’t discriminate people on the way they look, or dress.’
Ms. Cooper underlined that ‘different people have different priorities, different standards and different opinions’ so it sounds inappropriate to generalise the well-being of every citizens in a specific country. It also appears obvious that this data, as is with all research, cannot claim to be representative of every individual.

It also seems that British citizens act and interact in a more friendly and casual way than in France, which has been said to have the best quality of life in Europe. Leslie Muller, a French girl who lived in the UK for years and is now back in her homeland thinks the atmosphere is more ‘laid back and relaxed’ and she also used to feel more secure when she was living in England than she now does in Paris.

Furthermore, this research did not include one important element to measure the quality of life in different countries: the likelihood to be employed in a specific place. According to the service Eurostat from the European Commission, in July 2011, two months before the Index was published, 9.8% of the population were unemployed in France while only 8% in the UK. Ms. Muller, having previously lived in England, said what she enjoyed the most in the UK was ‘how easy it is to get a job and to keep it.’ even if you are a foreigner. She added: ‘In France, if you can’t speak the language perfectly it is almost Mission Impossible to find a place to work!’.

Following this research, which placed the UK at the bottom of the list for quality of life in Europe, an article came out on The Guardian written by Mark King on the 22 September 2011 with the controversial headline “Want to be happy? Don’t live in the UK!”. In any ways, Ms. Cooper, who worked on the quality of life index, outlined that the results are not to be linked ‘with the enjoyment of a person living in the studied country.’

It seems that one negative point in the UK which could easily affect a person’s quality of life is the high costs of living. Alcohol, food, cigarettes and fuel prices are amongst the most expensive in the countries studied. Mr. Laurent, England lover and former inhabitant for, had to admit it was a ‘rip-off’.

This research has been running for years and its PR manager said it would be difficult to ameliorate it and make it more reliable, she explained that ‘in order to make a year-on-year comparison, the same criteria are used every year’.

However, we could potentially expect a better classification for the UK in the following years. Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, said: ‘There are positive signs that consumers are already cutting back, curtailing spending and trying to clear outstanding debt, but more could be done. Taking control of our household finances may be the only way we can steer through these turbulent times until we reach a point where we can start to see our quality of life improve.’

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