The UK Office of National Statistics is currently consulting on a framework and headline indicators for measuring well-being. This is an incredibly important development, intended in the long run to provide alternatives to simplistic measures such as GDP.
The consultation tests the assumption that the following domains add up to a sense of well-being (quoted in full because of the importance of this work):
Individual well-being It is proposed that this domain should include individual’s feelings of satifaction with life, whether they feel their life is worthwhile and their positive and negative emotions. That is, this domain will include only the headline subjective well-being measures to be derived from the new ONS survey data. Subjective measures would be included with objective measures in the other domains.
Our relationships This was chosen as a domain because it reflects many of the responses received during the national debate and because many theories of well-being report the importance of this area to an individual’s well-being. The scope of this domain is intended to be the extent and type of individuals’ relationships to their immediate family, their friends and the community around them.
Health Includes areas which were thought to be important by respondents to the national debate. An individual’s health is recognised as an important component of their well-being. It is anticipated that this domain would contain both subjective and objective measures of physical and mental health.
What we do Aims to include work and leisure activities and the balance between them, all of which were common themes in the national debate responses. In this domain there are likely to be measures of aspects of work and leisure activities and of work-life balance.
Where we live Is about individual’s dwelling, their local environment and the type of community in which they live. Measures will be sought which reflect having a safe, clean and pleasant environment, access to facilities and being part of a cohesive community. ONS has taken Defra advice on the indicators in this area.
Personal finance Is intended to include household income and wealth, its distribution and stability. Measures within this would also be used during analysis to address the concepts of poverty and equality mentioned in the national debate responses.
Education and skills Various aspects of education and life-long learning were mentioned during the national debate. The scope of this domain is the stock of human capital in the labour market with some more information about levels of educational achievement and skills.
Governance Democracy, trust in institutions and views about the UK’s interaction with other countries, all of which were included in responses to the national debate, are intended to form the scope of this domain.
The economy Is an important contextual measure for national well-being. The scope of this domain is intended to be measures of economic output and stock.
The natural environment Is proposed as a domain in order to reflect areas mentioned during the national debate such as climate change, the natural environment, the effects our activities have on the global environment and natural disasters. It is planned to include measures which reflect these areas at the national level. ONS has taken Defra advice on the indicators for this area.
If you then look at the measures, the issues become more troubling. For instance, whilst generic issues such as climate change are referenced, there is no measure around access to greenspace within everyday life – the natural environment is remote.
The fact that there is no reference to culture is deeply problematic given the substantial research in the Nordic countries which demonstrates that participation in cultural activities has an impact on lifespan.
Finally, there is no reference to any spiritual dimension as contributing to well-being, and whilst modern over-developed Western culture is largely secularised, to omit this area is to diminish the scope of the understanding of well-being.
Responses to this survey need to be made by 23rd January 2012.
There is also the seminal work of ecological economist Robert Costanza http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Costanza, who has published widely on the happiness index. He was one of the first to insist we had to factor hidden costs into all our industries and calculate it into the “costs” for example of various fuels. He has been publishing for a couple decades. He was the lead author for a 1997seminal article, http://www.mendeley.com/research/value-worlds-ecosystem-services-natural-capital-15/ on economic sustainability. The abstract reads: “We have estimated the current economic value of 17 ecosystem services for 16 biomes, based on published studies and a few original calculations. For the entire biosphere, the value (most of which is outside the market) is estimated to be in the range of US$16-54 trillion (1012) per year, with an average of US$33 trillion per year. Because of the nature of the uncertainties, this must be considered a minimum estimate.”
Thanks a lot for this blog post, Chris! (I wrote a short article a few months ago, dealing with some related issues, on Cultura21’s webmagazine: http://magazin.cultura21.de/piazza/english/which-wealth-for-which-sustainability.html )
Hi Chris – Katrina and I are doing a residency based arts project at Nairn Health Centre making work there as part of a pilot Wellness Enhancement Learning programme headed up by Dr David Reilly. do you know this scheme? It would be good to catch up about this. cheers S