Making quality of life our goal

While the spotlight continues to fall on the fragility of the economic recovery, analysts and commentators are also beginning to examine the nature of the recovery. Many firms may be returning to profit and market indices may be approaching pre-recession levels, but there is some concern that living standards are not improving accordingly.

It is against this backdrop that the ONS consultation on well-being drew to a close today.  The supposition that economic output should not assume pre-eminence as a public policy objective continues to build momentum, gathering a broader spectrum of support since the publication of the ‘Stiglitz Commission’ report in September 2009.

To coincide with the conclusion of the ONS consultation, the IED is pleased to publish a paper authored by Charles Seaford – head of the Centre for Well-being at the new economics foundation. The paper – available to download free of charge – is the latest in the IED’s Critical Issues in Economic Development series.

In it, Charles presents an erudite and compelling case for public policy to prioritise quality of life. Drawing on an impressive range of sources, the paper explores the relationship between income and well-being and suggests that relative income is a more significant determinant of well-being than absolute income. It reinforces the premium that UK citizens attach to job security and the enduring challenges that unemployment brings.

The paper acknowledges the shortcomings that have befallen previous attempts to establish indices of well-being, but is resolute in its view that these can be overcome with insight and sufficient commitment to the principle.

Simplifying the business environment is a stated Government objective. Whether achieving greater emphasis on quality of work, security of income and quality of life will be compatible with this remains to be seen. But this paper leaves the reader in no doubt that the prize on offer is at least commensurate with the scale of the challenge.


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