UK the worst place to live, France the best in Europe: poll

The Guardian, LONDON

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 - Page 6

The UK has been named the worst place to live in Europe for quality of life, behind countries with damaged economies such as Ireland and Italy, according to the latest uSwitch quality of life index.

The UK emerged as having the second-lowest hours of sunshine a year, the fourth-highest retirement age and the third-lowest spent on health as a percentage of GDP.

Despite an above-average household income, Britons have 5.5 fewer days holiday a year than the European average and endure a below-average government spending on education.

UK households also struggle with a high cost of living, with food and diesel prices the highest in Europe, and unleaded gasoline, alcohol and cigarettes all costing more than the European average.

As a result, more than one in 10 Britons (12 percent) said they are seriously considering emigrating, with “broken society” the biggest concern for 59 percent of those questioned, followed by the cost of living (49 percent) and crime and violence (47 percent). Just 5 percent of those questioned are happy in the UK.

The study examined 16 factors to determine where the UK sits in relation to nine other major European countries. Variables such as net income, VAT and the cost of essential goods were put under the microscope, as well as lifestyle factors such as hours of sunshine, holiday entitlement, working hours and life expectancy.

France bagged the top spot for the third year running, despite families earning an average £31,767 (US$49,800) and working longer hours than people in the UK. However, the French enjoy 2,124 hours of sunshine, have an average retirement age of 60 and receive 36 days of holiday a year. They also live a year longer than Brits, with an average life expectancy of 81.4 years compared with 80.4 in the UK.

Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany rounded out the top five best European countries for quality of life, with Denmark, Poland, Sweden and Ireland also above the UK in the table.

Last year Ireland was joint bottom with the UK.

The study weighted each category to nationally representative criteria using sources such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Met Office, the World Health Organization and Eurostat. It then calculated a standardized score, defining quality of life as the sum of the standardized scores.

“Last year at least our neighbors in Ireland were worse off, now we can’t even console ourselves with that. We are now officially at the bottom of the pile ... it is not surprising that one in 10 of us have contemplated starting a new life abroad. But for those of us who decide to stick it out and ride the storm, there will be no choice but to batten down the hatches,” Ann Robinson of said.

“Cutting back where possible to help combat our high living costs will go some way to improving our quality of life,” Robinson said.