The promise of the past… Remember when David Cameron used to talk about general wellbeing? “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing,” is how he put it during that rosy early period of the Coalition. But, as with so much else, he soon stopped talking about it, and it seemed that there was little else to the Government’s life than money. GWB went MIA.
…and the actualities of the present. Except, just because the Prime Minister stopped caring about monitoring our overall wellbeing, it didn’t mean that everyone else had. The Office for National Statistics spent much of the last Parliament devising a measure of GWB – or, rather, measures. There’s so much involved in our overall happiness, from the quality of our relationships to the quantity of our housing options, that no one metric can capture it all. The ONS eventually struck on dozens of particular measures, many of which are shown in this fancy interactive wheel.
It’s still the economy, stupid. The grand irony is that if any of these measures get any attention it’s still the economic ones. News outlets tend to pass over the stuff about whether we’re satisfied with our social lives, and concentrate on the wellbeing measures related to our pocketbooks. Two of the foremost are shown in the graph at the top of this page. One is our Real Household Disposable Income per head; which is to say, the average amount of money we have to spend after tax, accounting for inflation. The other tracks our perceptions of our finances, and is actually taken from the Eurobarometer surveys that I’ve been looking at recently.
We’re feeling better than we did in 2008. You’ll notice that, according to the latest numbers for the third quarter of last year, these measures are pretty much as strong as they have been since the crash – although that’s hardly saying much. RHDI per head is just 3.3 per cent higher than it was in the first quarter of 2008. Whilst our collective perception of our financial situation has only recently returned to positive territory, at 1.4, meaning that slightly more people reckon that their situation is improving.
Looking further and further beyond. All of this touches on a point that I’ve tried to make in the past: that we and politicians should strive to look beyond the headline numbers, and perhaps even beyond all numbers, until we’re as close as possible to people’s actual lives and experiences. The ONS’s varied measures for wellbeing are a move in that direction, even it’s still the economic ones that prevail, and even if none of them have yet overcome Westminster’s preoccupation with GDP. I shall return to some of the non-economic ones in future To The Point posts.