Wellbeing has risen over the past four years, so why aren't we hearing more about it in the election?by Gus O'Donnell / April 14, 2015 / Leave a comment
“It’s time we admitted that there is more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB—general wellbeing… It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all on the strengths of our relationships.”
So which of our political leaders said that? Hard to guess, perhaps, because it sounds suspiciously like the sort of thing politicians of all hues say when (in office) they are failing to deliver economic growth, or (out of office) wanting to play down their opponents’ success in doing so.
But listen on. “Improving our society’s sense of wellbeing,” continued David Cameron (in 2006), “is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.” How, as Prime Minister, has he met that challenge? Has he put “wellbeing” at the top of the agenda? Has he made it the yardstick against which he asks to be measured by voters this May? And if so, why aren’t we hearing more about it from Cameron in this campaign?
It’s the last question that is the most puzzling, since, despite all the talk of gloom and austerity, the wellbeing indicators actually tell a modestly but consistently positive story.
To be fair, it was the Prime Minister who ensured that there is a story to tell in the first place. Early in his premiership, he took the crucial first step of asking the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to measure, systematically, the wellbeing of the United Kingdom. Since 2011-12, the ONS has tracked four different measures of personal wellbeing: your overall life satisfaction; whether you feel your life is “worthwhile”; your level of happiness; and your level of anxiety. The ONS also tracks other measures of national wellbeing, including environmental and economic factors.
It’s not hard to see why, to begin with, Cameron didn’t try to make too much of a song and dance about this. Not only was the data new, and lacking in points of comparison, but with GDP declining, no one would have been listening to the offer of alternative measures of success. And since economic factors clearly influence wellbeing, even if they aren’t the whole story, the well-being data might not have been much to sing about either.
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