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Report calls for wellbeing to be at the heart of public policy design

An independent commission has today (Thursday 20 March) published its recommendations that government target public policy-making at 'wellbeing', or life satisfaction, not simply economic growth.

GusO'DonnellWellbeing and Policy, commissioned by the Legatum Institute, is the final report of the Commission on Wellbeing and Policy, chaired by Gus O'Donnell (pictured top right), Chair of Frontier Economics and a Visiting Professor at LSE. Professor Lord Richard Layard (pictured below left), Director of the Wellbeing Programme in LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, was one of the five commissioners tasked with exploring how wellbeing analysis can be usefully applied to policy. 

Richard Layard The commissioners conclude that GDP is too narrow a measure of prosperity. Instead, policy should aim at increasing people's satisfaction with their lives, using measures of wellbeing as an indicator of success. The report explains how to define and measure wellbeing and demonstrates how it can be used to measure the success of different policies and different countries.

By examining the most important influences on wellbeing, the report identifies some new policy priorities and makes the following recommendations:

Mental health: mental ill health should be treated as professionally as physical ill health and people with depression or anxiety should have access to treatment on exactly the same basis as people with physical illness.

Support for parents:  parents should be offered parenting classes to cover emotional and physical aspects of child rearing and the emotional impact of children on the couple's relationship, as well as couples therapy if they fall out.

Character building: schools should explicitly teach life skills. Children's wellbeing should be regularly measured and teachers should be trained in mental health and the management of child behaviour.

Governance and empowering citizens: citizens should be treated with respect; they should be empowered and feel empowered.

Volunteering and giving: higher levels of volunteering and giving should be encouraged as they are a powerful way of increasing subjective wellbeing. Governments may have a role in presenting evidence on the positive effects of volunteering, and making it simple and attractive to give and volunteer.

Maintaining a stable rate of growth: research shows that a fall in income lowers wellbeing more than an equal rise in income increases it. So reducing volatility, even at the cost of reducing the average rate of growth, should be the prime economic objective.

Wellbeing at work: employers should be more sensitive to mental health problems in their workforce since these account for nearly half of all sickness absence.

Gus O'Donnell, Chair of the Commission and one of the authors of the report, said: "GDP alone is not enough. To measure a country’s progress, we also need to look at how satisfied we are with our lives and how worthwhile our lives are. Our report shows how to do this: how to measure wellbeing, how to analyse it and how to act on it. We show how governments and individuals can use this information to make better decisions and ultimately a better society.”

Read the full press release here

A full copy of the report is available to download here and an executive summary is available to download here.


Note for editors:

The Commission for Wellbeing and Policy's commissioners and authors of the report are:

  • Lord O’Donnell, currently Chair of Frontier Economics and Visiting Professor in LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, and former Head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary.
  • Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department at Princeton University.
  • David Halpern, Chief Executive and Board Director of Behavioural Insights.
  • Martine Durand, Chief Statistician and Director of the OECD Statistics Directorate.
  • Lord Layard, Director of the Wellbeing Programme in the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE.

20 March 2014