It is well documented that Gross Domestic Product, as a measure of societal wellbeing, is inefficient at examining societal welfare at the individual level. Unpaid time inputs and their associated outputs (including domestic labour) are unaccounted for, as are the costs to the natural economy of polluting industry, or the social costs of damaged familial and community relationships due to increased working hours. As an indicator, GDP is quantitative by nature – a market-based figure without social references. The pursuit of growth at any cost has led to a situation where we are living beyond our financial and environmental means. Because currently policy is informed by the definition of societal improvement as economic growth, a paradigm shift is needed to ensure that future policy initiatives are developed and measured with increased national wellbeing as a key outcome.
A qualitative National Account of Wellbeing, taking into account personal wellbeing (emotional wellbeing, vitality, self-esteem, autonomy and positive functioning) social wellbeing (trust and belonging), and wellbeing at work can provide important feedback on the effects of public policy, as well as macro and micro level experiential data that can identify areas of need and shape future policy formation. National Accounts of Wellbeing allow governments to analyse new policy proposals without engaging in a narrow cost/benefit analysis, focusing instead on a wider range of impacts on personal and social wellbeing. By focusing on wellbeing, governments are also afforded the opportunity to analyse the experiential impacts of enacted laws and policy at a national, regional, or micro level, and explore variations between population subgroups.
At present, the Australian Treasury has developed a wellbeing framework, which operates as a descriptive tool in order to support analysis and provide a framework for understanding the social impact of government policy. By commissioning the Australian Bureau of Statistics to measure wellbeing, the Australian Government would be provided with data that not only enabled them to more efficiently assess the effectiveness of policy, but a means of analysing the need for policy action across the nation or at the local level.
By adopting National Accounts of Wellbeing, governments must necessarily integrate them into the policy-making process. As a policy tool, National Accounts of Wellbeing are dynamic: they increase governmental understanding of the population and their needs, inform policy development, shape the way that policy is delivered, and assist in the evaluation of implemented policy. By tasking national statistical offices to measure wellbeing, and creating a network comprised of statisticians and analysts to collect and dissect the data, the Australian Government could measure and act on wellbeing as part of a broader context of social and environmental sustainability.
Michaelson, J, Abdullah, S, Steuer, N, Thompson, S & Marks, N. (2009) National Accounts of Wellbeing: Bringing Real Wealth onto the Balance Sheet. New Economics Foundation: London.
Canadian Index of Wellbeing - http://www.atkinsonfoundation.ca/ciw