December 4, 2020

England set for sharp and prolonged decline in national wellbeing

by Carnegie UK Trust
  • Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe™) measures whether life is getting better or worse
  • While GDP has risen, GDWe has fallen – and is set to decline dramatically in 2020

England is heading for a sharp and prolonged fall in national wellbeing, according to the influential Carnegie UK Trust.

The Trust says swathes of data points it uses to track the state of the nation are already in decline, with many more likely to follow. These include the rising rate of unemployment; dwindling trust in national government; rising public debt; deteriorating ratings for life satisfaction, happiness and anxiety; and the impact of loneliness on wellbeing.

The bleak outlook comes as The Carnegie UK Trust launches a new measure of national progress called Gross Domestic Wellbeing, or GDWe™. The index tracks ten areas of life and arrives at a single overall figure to assess whether our lives are improving year on year. This is measured out of ten and compared with previous years.

The GDWe score for England last year was 6.89, but the data shows that life in England has been getting progressively worse for the past five years.

Designed to be used in a similar way to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) or Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDWe is one of the world’s only single-measure trackers of whether life in a nation is getting better or worse. Whilst GDP over the last five years has steadily increased, growth in Gross Domestic Wellbeing in England slowed dramatically between 2015 and 2017 and had been in decline (i.e. life became measurably worse) long before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy at The Carnegie UK Trust, said: “GDP fails to track some of the most important aspects of our lives, such as employment, health, life expectancy, mental wellbeing and crime rates.

“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.”

“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.”

Caroline Lucas MP, said: “We do not have the luxury of time or resources to allow a recovery from COVID-19 that further exacerbates the climate and ecological crises, and we cannot consign large swathes of the population to poor quality jobs knowing that they result in poorer health, increased inequality and marginalised communities.”

“Gross Domestic Wellbeing offers a promising new narrative on wellbeing as social progress and a way to start measuring what matters the most. The Treasury should urgently consider GDWe as a tool to help guide the economic recovery – and as a first step towards a Wellbeing Economy and a more fundamental economic reset.”

Lord John Bird MBE, said:

“COVID-19 has shown the extreme inequalities that persist for many people living in England, and how different factors such as our health, income and the place we call home all impact our lives individually, and together as a society. The wellbeing of current and future generations is at risk.”

“Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe) offers a new way of thinking. One that promotes a more balanced and holistic understanding of complex societal issues. This shift – to wellbeing as social progress – is fundamental today, for a better tomorrow.”

About The Carnegie UK Trust

The Carnegie UK Trust works to improve the lives of people throughout the UK and Ireland, by changing minds through influencing policy, and by changing lives through innovative practice and partnership work. The Carnegie UK Trust was established in 1913 by Scots-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.