National Index of Wellbeing - Have Your Say!
By Sam Wren-Lewis
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently published its proposals for domains and headline measures of national well-being. These proposals build on the responses to the national debate on measuring well-being in 2010-11, as well as research into well-being.
This is potentially the last chance for members of the public to have their say on the domains and measures they think should be included in the national index of well-being (consultation will be open until January 23, 2012).
The ONS Measuring National Well-being (MNW) Programme was launched in November 2010 to provide a fuller understanding of ‘how society is doing’ than economic measures alone can provide. It started with a national debate on ‘What matters to you?’ to improve understanding of what should be included in measures of the nation’s well-being.
Other than measuring people’s assessments of their own well-being, the national index also seeks to measure the factors directly affecting individual well-being, namely Health, Relationships, What we do, Where we live, Personal Finance and Education. The index is also likely to include measures concerning Governance, the Economy and Natural Environment, as well as Equality/Fairness and Sustainability issues over time.
Personally, I can’t help but look at the proposed domains and measures for measuring national well-being as a good thing. Who can deny that it would be good to know how the nation is doing with respect to people’s overall assessment of their own well-being, as well as people’s relationships, health, work, leisure, communities, wealth, job security and education? Further, who could deny that it would be good to know which areas of the nation are doing better or worse than others in terms of each domain?
This sort of information would be invaluable for public policy seeking to improve people’s well-being in the most effective way possible. Indeed, this sort of information would be invaluable for anyone seeking to improve his or her well-being. The ONS states that it will publish papers approximately every month starting in February 2012 which will show not only how well we are doing in terms of each domain, but also how important each domain is for individual well-being. It also plans to present these findings in interesting and accessible ways, such as OECD’s Your Better Life index, here. If done well, this should be a great way to spread the findings of well-being research and enable people to better promote their own well-being.
One major problem with all this information, however, is that it might not get used in the right way. Indeed, it might even deliberately get used in the wrong way, to manipulate public policy in order to serve certain interests. For example, suppose that the UK is doing well in terms of the domain “What we do,” but is doing badly in terms of the domain “Where we live,” and that most people judge their lives to be going fairly well overall. If this were the case, then efforts should be focused on providing safe, clean and pleasant environments, increasing access to facilities and enabling people to be part of a cohesive community.
In practice, however, information on “Where we live,” could be ignored, instead focusing on the fact that we are doing well in terms of “What we do” and that most people judge their lives to be going fairly well overall. This may suit some people politically, but would miss the point of the public service provided by the ONS.
This is why the ONS consultation process, is essential if we want the national index of well-being to be used in an effective and exciting way. It’s really important that the information is presented in ways that are easy for everyone to grasp, so, have a look at the headline domains and measures proposed by ONS here, and, have your say before January 23.