Gross Domestic Wellbeing: An alternative measure of social progress

The Covid-19 pandemic has further brought inequalities into light. This 2020 report, from the Carnegie UK Trust, proposes a new measure of social progress, moving away from focusing on economic production: Gross Domestic Wellbeing. Based on extensive analysis, the report maps GDW against GDP in England over time, to establish the liveability of our places. With findings that GDW has been declining, even before the pandemic, it argues we need to create recovery plans with wellbeing at the heart.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This 2020 report, from the Carnegie UK Trust, proposes a new measure of social progress: Gross Domestic Wellbeing. It builds on an earlier 2009 Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission, which argued for governments to shift emphasis away from measuring economic production (Gross Domestic Product) to citizens’ wellbeing (Gross Domestic Wellbeing). This is very timely, since the Covid-19 pandemic has further brought social and economic inequalities into light. As the authors suggest (p.2):

“COVID-19 is bringing into sharp focus the importance of societal wellbeing. It has already illuminated the disparities that persist for many people living in the UK, and the interconnection of different factors that have an impact on how we live our lives together as a society. From the quality of our relationships to our health, to the places we call home and our income – the contribution of each to wellbeing cannot be understood in isolation”.

Drawing on ONS data, the Carnegie UK Trust is able to produce a single, holistic measure of Gross Domestic Wellbeing for England, and to trace this over time. The score focuses on data about ten key areas of life, which influences societal wellbeing:

  • Personal well-being
  • Our relationships
  • Health
  • What we do
  • Where we live
  • Personal finance
  • Economy
  • Education and skills
  • Governance
  • Environment

The report also draws on qualitative experiences found in relevant commissions and inquiries around wellbeing since 2010, to complement this quantitative analysis, to better understand wellbeing in England.

The report finds that Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDW) in England had been rising since 2013, but showed evidence of decline from 2018, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, lagging behind economic growth. This is anticipated to have been exacerbated further by the crisis, which has brought along issues such as bereavement, job losses, anxiety, and isolation. Wellbeing scores for personal well-being, what we do, where we live, governance, and the natural environment are calculated as being below the overall GDW score for England in 2018/2019.

Overall, the report recommends governments to commit to putting wellbeing the heart of decision-making (recommendation 1); hold a national conversation on wellbeing as part of Build Back Better preparations (recommendation 2); data providers like the ONS should provide regular data updates about wellbeing to be incorporated into policy making (recommendation 3); and governments should commit to the six cornerstones of wellbeing: prevention, participatory democracy, equalities, localism, integration of services, and long-termism (recommendation 4).

The full report and methodology can be read here [link to external site]