A nation’s wealth isn’t measured by GDP alone

527524321 230x300 A nations wealth isnt measured by GDP aloneOn Thursday 26th November, the Prime Minister announced that he was planning to measure the well-being of the UK population. Although, at first sight, just some new questions in a statistical survey, this is potentially a very significant step.

We do not yet know what the questions will be – National Statistician Jill Matheson will be responsible for deciding – but they are likely to be about people’s experiences, that is, their ’subjective’ well-being. They will probably be included in the Integrated Household Survey (IHS) which contains information from nearly 450,000 individual respondents, the biggest source of social data on the UK after the census.

This is good news for several reasons.

First, it will be good for policy. The IHS 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.

Jo Swinson MP is the Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics

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  • KlingonOffTheStarboardBow

    I’ve had it with “surveys”. Most of the time some hideously-expensive government-subsisided “survey” prodes a report with conclusions that are bleedin’ obvious.

    I don’t think Cameron is doing a bad job so far, though he lacks the steel required. However, on this “How happy is the nation?” rubbish he has done a “Prince-Charles-Talking-To-Plants”.

    And when he FINDS out how happy we are, there remains the question: “WHAT IS HE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?”

    Here are some suggestions David Old Chap that would save you the bother (and us the millions) of doing a survey:

    - sack all the merchants who got us into this mess and cut off their bonuses (not the only thing that deserves cutting off of course ….)
    - create an environment (tax, infrastructure etc) where people can do business so that jobs can be created
    - reintroduce the concept of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” (see sack the bankers and cut their bonuses)
    - get us out of the EU; I do NOT want van Rompostiltskin ruling me from Brussels. I do NOT WANT prisoners to have the right to vote and so on ad infinitum ….
    - end this lunatic PC culture (Why did you sack that minister recently for his comment about the breeding rates of the middle and lower classes? LOADS OF RESPECTED COMMENTATORS HAVE AGREED THAT WHAT HE SAID WAS TRUE – Don’t be afraid of THE TRUTH, DAVID. WE WANT THE TRUTH ….)
    - stop mass immigration
    - cancel all PFI initiatives without compensation and start doing the job properly (see (fair days’ work etc)
    - reopen school playing fields and reinstate team games
    - introduce rigour and disciplineinto schools (there’s a tough one for you, but you can do it …)
    - sort out the undemocratic election procedure once and for all and
    - GET RID OF LORDS … the idea that anyone can be “happy” while Lord Mandelson is sitting in judgement over us at a salary of £100,000 plus perks AND £62,000 from the EU (= US!) for not doing any work for them just because he’s earning less now than for the EU (who doesn’t) EVEN THOUGH he resigned is INSANE

    There’s a START, David …. I’m sure others can add to the list …

  • KlingonOffTheStarboardBow

    Had you not heard there is a massive financial crisis in full swing? How much do you think this “survey” will cost? Do you think we can afford spending money on such tosh? Don’t you think he could find out how happy people are by asking them and listening – or indeed just by reading the press?He could – for a start – go and see Mrs Bigot in Rochdale to see if she is any happier now than when Brown saw her – though that wouldn’t be difficult. In fact, simply NOT seeing him on telly telling us how wonderful our financial position was would be enough to make ANYONE happier.There: four questions to start your day. If you have trouble, I can supply the right answers later ….

  • KlingonOffTheStarboardBow

    We must make sure they are appropriate will genuinely measure the feelings of those questioned at that time.

    Well, if some pratt knocks at my door asking me how happy I am I am certainly going to tell him where to shove his clip-board …..

  • KlingonOffTheStarboardBow

    “right” and “left”? Oh dear ….Old, tired, soggy thinking. No wonder we’re in a mess.

    “have a name”? What about “The People’s Pragmatic & Commonsense Party”

    PPCP – Yes, I quite like that, but an acronym would be better to help memory retention. Any ideas?

  • KlingonOffTheStarboardBow

    Look, the main thing is that the survey:

    A) employs lots of people feeling useful
    B) costs lots of money to add to the deficit and make the bankers happy (they love deficits – theya re specialists)
    C) comes up with some bleedin’ obvious conclusions and
    D) gives not the faintest idea of how to change anything for the better (or pay for it)

    As long as the survey fills these criteria it will not have been a qaste of time – a waste of money, yes, but there’s plenty more that can be printed or borrowed …..

    If an official and well designed index

    OH GOD – a Happiness Index!! You can just imagine the enxt election. “Vote Labour and we will increase your happiness index by 10%. The Tories are only promising 5%. Oh, I’ve just heard, they’ve upped it to 12%, so we’ll promise you 15% more happiness as officially registered ..

    Sorry, the whole thing is barking mad, but what do you expect of government.

    PS This cunning plan will go down well in Cuba I believe. I’m told they are very happy there despite being dirt poor, not being allowed computers and all the rest … In fact, they are so happy there are millions queuing up to try to get into the country … or have I got that wrong again?

  • Brian

    National happiness has been linked to the ratio of wealth distribution between the richest and poorest, with the more equal countries being happier

    If this is true, how will the government frame the questions so that they do not show that their policies are making the country unhappier?

  • Oscar Weird

    Yes, it all comes down to the law of diminishing marginal gratification. If you have no money, a little more makes a big difference, whereas if you have a lot of money, a little more makes absolutely no difference. Unfortunately, governments for the last thirty years seem to believe the trickle down myth and make me laugh with the Laffer curve.

  • Kamal


    Wow you woke in a bad mood mate. There are lots of things that are waste of money. This is simply going to add to the data to show how we feel. If the right questions are asked if may be very useful. I do understand where you are coming from in terms of costs.

  • Jasonsmith17

    Very bad news indeed. The government have retreated from their job of developing society for the better i.e. we all have a better life, and are now instead measuring and trying to create happiness. Stalin did the same thing I seem to remember.

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