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|The measure comes amid deep public spending cuts and tax hikes aimed at curbing the public deficit [EPA]|
The British government is set to measure the country’s “happiness” in an effort to give a fuller picture of how the nation is performing.
David Cameron, the prime minister, who had previously called for “general well-being” to be assessed alongside traditional economic indicators, outlined some of the plans on Thursday, sparking criticism from some quarters.
The move, which will cost around $2.7m, has been labelled “airy-fairy” and a diversion tactic at a time when unpopular austerity measures, including public spending cuts and tax hikes, are coming into force.
Unite, a major trade union, criticised the plan for diverting attention from the country’s econmic woes, calling it “another attempt by the coalition to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes”.
But Cameron, speaking at the Treasury, said it was important to gain a picture “of how life is improving” to allow ministers to create better policies.
“From April next year we will start 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 said.
“To those who say that all this sounds like a distraction from the serious business of government, I say finding out what will really improve lives and acting on it is the serious business of government.”
The move by the coalition government follows a recent call from two Nobel economists to move away from gross domestic product (GDP) which only looks at economic factors, to indicators such as well-being and sustainability.
Cameron had previously said there was “more to life than money” and urged a focus “not just on GDP but on GWB – general well-being”.
Around 30 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion calling for the move, arguing that promoting happiness and well-being is a legitimate and important goal of government.
The measure is expected to take into account people’s work-life balance, their relationships, attitudes and even topics such as recycling rates.
Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat MP who is backing the motion, said the index could provide a “better idea of the health of UK society”.
“Relying solely on GDP to track the nation’s progress exludes many of the things we all know to be important, but that can’t be measured by money,” the Press Association quoted her as saying.
“What gets measured gets done. While it’s not government’s job to make people happy, regular measures of well-being will at least make sure it is taken into account.”