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
Published in May 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
“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…