Prime Minister asks Office for National Statistics to create measures of well-being

The end of November 2010 brought the announcement that the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) is going to start measuring subjective well-being to help guide national policy. At a conference at the Treasury on 25 November, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about how well-being indicators will be used as a new measure of the country’s progress. He argued that government has the power to help improve well-being by creating a climate in the country more conducive to the good life. In his speech Mr Cameron talked about a shift to ‘measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving…not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life’. He also talked about the importance of government policy supporting people to feel in control and make choices, and having a sense of purpose and belonging. This is an understanding of well-being reflected in the National Accounts of Well-being research.

This UK announcement follows in the footsteps of a report commissioned last year by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and written by Nobel economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, about alternative measures of progress. And around the globe, governments are changing the way they measure how well their country is doing. In Ecuador and Bolivia the indigenous concept of “buen vivir” (living well) has been incorporated into state constitutions.

The ONS, lead by Jil Matheson, the National Statistician, has been given the task of choosing several subjective well-being questions to be included in the Integrated Household Survey, the biggest source of social data on the UK after the census. The process has begun with a public consultation, involving both the general population and specialists, about what the focus of these questions should be. The subjective well-being questions will be put together by the ONS and will most likely be used to create a composite measure of national well-being.

To join the national debate and respond to the consultation, go to the ONS well-being national debate website.

To see how nef has responded to the announcement read Juliet Michealson’s blog for Left Foot Forward and Head of the Centre for Well-being at nef, Charles Seaford’s blog on attending the first meeting of the ONS Advisory Forum.