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Today, For A Better Tomorrow: Gross Domestic Wellbeing

By Hannah Ormston, Carnegie UK Trust 
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It’s been over 10 years since the ground-breaking Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission asserted the value of governments shifting their emphasis away from measuring economic production (GDP) to measuring citizens’ wellbeing. Since then, several governments across the world have crafted innovative new ways of measuring and understanding the lives of their citizens.

Perhaps one of the most celebrated examples is New Zealand’s approach. The NZ Treasury’s Living Standards Framework – first developed in 2011 - captures information and measures ‘progress’ across several areas of wellbeing. From housing to health, social connections to knowledge and skills, it emphasises both the importance of intergenerational wellbeing and recognises that each domain or area of life cannot be understood in isolation. It acknowledges, for example, that where a person lives may impact their ability to access greenspace or public transport. Likewise, the quality of an individual’s personal connections could improve their mental health, happiness, or satisfaction with life.

It may be more than just a coincidence that New Zealand is recognised as a leading wellbeing government and was able to more successfully respond to and mitigate the adverse impacts of COVID-19 than its counterparts across the world. New Zealand’s approach is informed by a more holistic understanding of wellbeing. One which balances the health, wealth and happiness of society in equal measure, and where economic growth is not the primary goal. Their longer-term approach and commitment to improving equality for all of its citizens is evidenced by the consistent data which they have diligently collected since 2011. And, moving beyond rhetoric, they have utilised this data. Using it to inform budgets and decision making and address long-term challenges. Their commitment to wellbeing – and specifically wellbeing measurement - could explain why New Zealand has the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the OECD.

Closer to home, the ONS Measures of National Well-being Dashboard was similarly developed in 2011 as a response to the then UK Government’s pledge to ‘devise a new way of measuring wellbeing in Britain’. However, with new election cycles came new priorities. 10 years since its inception, there’s a large volume of available evidence critical to identifying and understanding the gaps in collective wellbeing which is not being captured within the present framework. And what’s more, the information currently being collected is not being used to influence decision making.

At the end of a year of upheaval, uncertainty, and collective grief, in December, the Carnegie UK Trust published a report which offers a tool to build forward and recover from the pandemic with the wellbeing of citizens at the centre. Providing an alternative score to GDP, it builds on the foundations of the ONS framework, recommending further indicators for inclusion to ensure that we are measuring what matters and leaving no one behind.

Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe) brings together 40 indicators from the ONS dataset into a single figure. The purpose of GDWe is not to suggest that societal wellbeing can be distilled into a single number – we know that it is far more complex than that. Instead, it aims to provide an easy to understand and communicate measure which could help policy makers to prioritise wellbeing and to inform a conversation about where the gaps remain. Crucially, it can also be tracked over time.

There is a growing movement of academics, practitioners, policymakers and changemakers  who recognise that long-term ‘futures thinking’ is central to recovering from COVID-19. The wellbeing of current and future generations depends on it. But short-termism is symptomatic of current political structures, of ‘failures of successive governments to plan for the future and prepare for social, economic and technological change’. Inadequate resources stop public bodies from preparing for and undertaking preventative planning. They require the resources to reset and refocus priorities on wellbeing outcomes.

And you don’t need to travel 11,000 miles to New Zealand to see examples of where this is already happening. The National Performance Framework is Scotland, and the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 each places a strong emphasis on prevention, intervention, integration and localism. Though there is still some work to be done in implementation, these are the guiding principles of a wellbeing approach.

This approach underpins the UK Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill currently making its way through Parliament. The Bill, and supporting Today for Tomorrow campaign, aims to put long term, strategic thinking at the heart of UK policy making to protect the wellbeing of people and communities now, and in the future. It sets out several steps for public bodies to embed futures thinking, including a requirement for each to set and publish wellbeing objectives, publish future generations impact assessments, and account for preventative spending, to name a few examples.

Futures thinking involves a willingness to imagine a different way forward. Both the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill and GDWe offer potential to do just that. To reset and rebalance priorities, and to create real, transformational change both by measuring what matters and using this evidence to inform policy making, and by the UK Government showing their commitment to collective wellbeing through legislation.

Hannah Ormston is a Policy and Development Officer working within the Wellbeing and Tows team at the Carnegie UK Trust. The Trust works to improve the wellbeing of people living in the UK and Ireland.





Jennifer Wallace, Hannah Ormston and Ben Thurman are members of the Wellbeing and Towns team at the Carnegie UK Trust. The Trust works to improve the wellbeing of people in the UK and Ireland. To read the full Gross Domestic Wellbeing report, visit:


This blog is written during a wellbeing week hosted by Today for Tomorrow, which calls on the UK Government to deliver a new, sustainable vision for the nation that prioritises our environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing. Through the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill it aims to move beyond economic growth, to embed long-term thinking in policy making. 

To find out more or read the full Gross Domestic Wellbeing report, visit:  

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