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New wellbeing score shows quality of life in England is in ‘freefall’

The Carnegie UK Trust’s Gross Domestic Wellbeing is aiming to look beyond GDP to track the nation’s happiness, not prosperity, as The Big Issue continues campaign to put wellbeing at heart of decision-making

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The wellbeing of people in England has declined in recent years according to a new measure. Credit: Debbie Fan/Unsplash

Wellbeing in England is in “freefall”, according to a new measure assessing how the nation is faring in mental health, employment and happiness.

Experts have long argued that assessing the state of a nation must go beyond its economic success, so Carnegie UK Trust has detailed a new measure it calls Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe).

The Trust created an index that tracks ten areas of life to arrive at a single figure showing health and wellbeing, taking into account the impact of rising unemployment, dwindling trust in government, rising public debt, loneliness, and deteriorating ratings for life satisfaction, happiness and anxiety.

The GDWe score for England in 2019 was 6.89 out of 10 and is down on index scores that Carnegie UK Trust has mapped to show wellbeing in recent years.

Jennifer Wallace, head of policy at The Carnegie UK Trust, said: “GDWe was already in decline before lockdown, so it is likely to be in freefall now. It is vital we do not view the impact of Covid-19 exclusively through the lens of the economy.

“If the Government is to live up to its promise to Build Back Better, it must look at the inequalities that exist throughout society.”

The research highlights a GDWe rise between 2013/14 and 2015/16 before the index score remained relatively stable for the next two years and then dipping in 2018/19. However, there was only a small variance between the highest and lowest scores of 0.44 across the six-year period.

The score does, however, demonstrate that wellbeing is falling in England and, unsurprisingly, Carnegie UK Trust is predicting that the decline already seen prior to the Covid-19 pandemic will continue.

The Trust hopes GDWe – one of the world’s only single-measure trackers of whether life in a nation is getting better or worse – will come to be used in the same way that the inflation-tracking Consumer Prices Index (CPI) or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures are used to track a nation’s health.

“GDP fails to track some of the most important aspects of our lives, such as employment, health, life expectancy, mental wellbeing and crime rates,” Wallace added.

“GDWe is like a basket of goods taken from our daily lives. By tracking 40 individual data sets, it is a robust, realistic way to ask whether life is improving. It will help citizens to hold the Government of the time to account over its promises.

“It also helps us to pinpoint why we think life is improving, or declining. We all stand to benefit if future governments base spending decisions on their potential contribution to GDWe.”

The Big Issue is at the heart of the campaign to make our political leaders seriously consider wellbeing.

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird’s Future Generations Bill will require public bodies to set wellbeing targets to ensure decisions made today take into account the impact on future generations if it is brought into law.

The proposed legislation will return to the House of Commons for a long-delayed second reading on January 22 next year in a bid.

But devolved administrations have already shown signs of taking wellbeing seriously.

Lord Bird’s bill follows Wales’ lead – their Well-being of Future Generations Act came into force in 2016 and appointed Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe to scrutinise decisions made by public bodies to ensure they consider the long-term impact on generations that follow. 

A similar bill was given overwhelming support at last month’s Scottish National Party Conference.

Central Ayrshire MP Dr Philippa Whitford’s resolution at the virtual SNP conference called for the creation of a Well-being of Current and Future Generations Act to “put wellbeing front and centre” of Scotland’s rebuild from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Dr Whitford said: “The act calls on us to be good ancestors to those who come after us and take long-term decisions to leave the grandchildren of our grandchildren a country and a planet they can enjoy.” 

The Big Issue’s efforts to make Westminster follow suit are ongoing, see how you can get involved in our Today for Tomorrow campaign.

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