Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Take ten minutes to tell the Government what you think on wellbeing

It's been traditional to measure how well we're doing as a country purely by the amount of money we make. This is way too narrow a measure and it's counterproductive to plan all our policy around maximising GDP.

Making lots of money is one thing, but how can we count ourselves as a success if we can't provide people with decent housing that they can afford. Generally living standards now are much better than they were half a century ago, yet we're generally unhealthier and unhappier. Surely a successful Government will tackle the causes of that poor health and unhappiness.

If it's going to do that, it has to work out measures to define wellbeing. Now, we could have a bunch of Whitehall boys sit behind a desk and decide for themselves, but that would be a bit daft. This Government is being sensible enough to ask people what they think. They have an online consultation which is open until 15th April and it will only take you 10 minutes.

Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing.  She wrote a couple of months ago about the process which the Government is embarking on and why it's so important:

First, it will be good for policy. The IHS (intergrated household survey) already provides a large amount of objective data, which in future policy-makers will be able to analyse to identify associations between people's subjective well-being or experiences, and other, objective factors such as (amongst many others) economic activity, education, health and disability, identity, place of residence and income. This will provide information on the impact of social, economic, cultural and physical conditions, which can then be used to shape policy priorities. In the absence of this kind of measurement, policy makers have often had to make assumptions about what matters most to people, but as we all now know, it is not true that "the gentlemen in Whitehall know best". In particular the emphasis on GDP maximisation at the expense of all other goals has become an article of almost religious faith in the Whitehall-Westminster village.
Second, it will be good for democracy. Over time, the public and politicians will be able to assess the effectiveness of the government's policies in terms that really matter to people: that is the impact on their experiences. Of course, the ultimate aim of most policy is already to improve lives but, without proper measures of well-being, it can be difficult to assess them in these terms. These new measures will make this easier, not only for the government but, equally important, for the opposition and the public as well, who will be able to hold government to account in a new and more powerful way.
Finally, the measures have a symbolic value. If they capture the imagination, they may well start to shift popular ideas about what constitutes social progress - away from purely economic advance, to something more rounded - something that captures the whole range of things that matter to people. This is not just about the details of individual policies, but about the framing of the whole political debate. If we move away from pursuing economic activity for the sake of it, it will be easier to deal with climate change and other environmental challenges. Thus the framing of the debate is crucial not only to our own well-being but also to that of the planet and so to that of our children and grandchildren.
This is your chance to influence the whole future direction of Government policy - make sure you don't miss out.

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