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There can be little doubt about the Scottish Government taking the problems of poverty and inequality seriously. As recently as 9 October 2014, Finance Secretary John Swinney emphasised in his budget speech the aim to ‘deliver on the aspirations of the people of Scotland for a more prosperous and fairer Scotland’.
The commitment to a ‘flourishing’ Scotland through sustainable economic growth has been at the centre of the public policy agenda in Scotland since 2007 and is reflected in the National Performance Framework, also known as ‘Scotland Performs’. The framework provides a dashboard approach to assess progress towards the delivery of the Scottish Government’s overarching aim of ‘creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth’.
This overall government purpose is supported by seven ‘High Level Targets’ of which two targets for solidarity and cohesion directly relate to concerns with poverty and inequality. It is furthermore underpinned by five ‘Strategic Objectives’ of which the objective for Scotland to become ‘Wealthier and Fairer’ is most closely related to anti-poverty policies. Progress towards these targets and objectives is, in turn, assessed by 16 ‘National Outcomes’ and 50 ‘National Indicators’. For example, the achievement of the solidarity target is measured by an increase in the proportion of income earned by the three lowest income deciles by 2017. A reduction in the proportion of individuals living in poverty (defined as individuals living in households with an equivalised income of less than 60% of the UK median before housing costs) is the most direct indicator to track the progress towards poverty reduction.
This multi-dimensional and outcomes-oriented Scottish framework signifies a departure from the traditional way of measuring development and social progress through the increase in ‘national wealth’ as measured by the much criticised GDP. This single-minded focus on GDP as the key figure for government performance has for long been substantively criticised as, among other things, it ignores the negative effects of economic growth on people’s lives and does not say anything about the distribution of any created wealth. Scotland is one of a number of countries where this criticism has led to the pioneering of alternative measures. These new approaches are closely related to the fashionable concept of ‘wellbeing’ that gained traction in recent years all over the world among policy makers, academics and practitioners. The concept recognises that national wellbeing has to be understood in a holistic way, not only including economic, but also social and environmental dimensions and the interrelationships between these.
While the attempt of the Scottish Government, supported by a number of NGOs such as Oxfam Scotland and the Carnegie Trust, to arrive at a more holistic understanding of what makes life worth living and what public policy should strive for is laudable, some concerns with ‘Scotland Performs’ remain. For example, with a particular focus on the strategic objective to achieve a Scotland that is ‘wealthier and fairer’ the following criticisms can be made:
It has to be noted that the Scottish Government is aware of some of the shortcomings with its framework and a revision is currently ongoing which is explicitly seeking suggestions for new indicators to improve the framework. Moreover, measuring national performance is only a first step to improve the quality of life in Scotland and the most perfect measuring tool becomes pointless if it is not followed by a readjustment of policy priorities and, in fact, a reform of the very way in which policy is made in order to deliver on the desired outcomes and ambitions.
Despite the above criticisms, by and large the Scottish Government is taking steps in the right direction because ‘what is measured is what matters’ (for policy makers). Highlighting the relevance of poverty and inequality through the inclusion in the National Performance Framework and its impact on wellbeing for the whole society is thus more than welcome. Ultimately, the turn towards more encompassing measures of wellbeing rather than a narrow focus on economic growth will hopefully contribute to overcoming the perception that ‘doing good’ is difficult to combine with ‘doing well’.
Elke Heins is a Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh and was one of the project leaders of GLADS – Good Lives and Decent Societies, funded by the Scottish Universities Institute in 2014. This blog has originally been written for the Challenge Poverty Week arranged by the Poverty Alliance.
At the final event of the GLADS seminar series we screened a short film that the film maker Juan Barrera has shot during the earlier events. Watch the video here.
Guest blog from Lesley Kelly, GUS Dissemination Officer, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR), University of Edinburgh
Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) is the longitudinal research study tracking the lives of thousands of children from birth, through childhood and beyond. The study aims to find out about how the circumstances and experiences of children in Scotland are changing. It also aims to investigate how early experiences influence later outcomes.
A new project using data from GUS explores the possible influences on children’s behavioural and emotional difficulties, and on their subjective well-being. It uses information collected from over 3,000 mothers and children, interviewed during 2012/13 when the children were seven years old.
Mothers were asked about their child’s emotional and behavioural difficulties using a behavioural screening tool called the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The children were asked about their life satisfaction using a series of questions including ‘do you feel your life is going well?’ and ‘do you wish your life was different?’ (adapted from the Huebner Student Life Satisfaction Scale).
Using this data, researchers explored the role of child, maternal and household characteristics, parenting behaviours, school experiences, friendships, leisure activities and materialistic attitudes on both child mental health (high levels of behavioural and emotional problems) and low subjective well-being (low life satisfaction).
11% of children were classed as having high levels of behavioural and emotional problems, while 25% reported low life satisfaction. 4% of children experienced both. This suggests that one in twenty-five children in Scotland experience both mental health problems and low subjective well-being.
21% of children had low life satisfaction but no behavioural and emotional difficulties. 7% had a high level of difficulties but did not report low life satisfaction. Children with high levels of difficulties were more likely to report low well-being (39%) than those with normal levels (24%).
The factors associated with both child mental health problems and low subjective well-being were: greater conflict in the mother-child relationship; lower parental knowledge of the child’s activities or relationships when not at school; the child having difficulties adjusting to the learning or social environment at primary school; and the child having poorer quality friendships with other children.
Economic factors and some other aspects of family life (including family structure and the child’s leisure activities) were not clearly associated with either measure of social and emotional well-being, after allowing for other influences. Materialistic values (the importance of ‘expensive things’ to the child) were not associated with their life satisfaction.
Family ‘stressors’ such as mothers experiencing poor health, family mental health/ substance use problems and low levels of warmth in the mother-child relationship were associated with child mental health difficulties but not child subjective well-being. Experiencing a recent bereavement, illness or accident in the family, and less positive parenting (defined as less positive reinforcement of good behaviour and less involvement in the child’s activities) were associated with children’s subjective well-being, irrespective of levels of behavioural and emotional difficulties.
These findings support the idea that social relationships, involving parents, teachers and friends, are of key importance for children’s well-being. A holistic approach, which recognises the different components of well-being and the range of influencing factors, should be adopted. Approaches to promoting social and emotional well-being could be based on both the family and school context.
The full report ‘Growing Up in Scotland: Family and school influences on children’s social and emotional well-being’ by Alison Parkes, Helen Sweeting and Daniel Wight is available from the GUS website www.growingupinscotland.org.uk
GUS is funded by the Scottish Government and is carried out by ScotCen Social Research in collaboration with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh and the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow.
Guest blog by Lauren Pennycook, Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust
The final recommendation of the recent report from The Commission on Wellbeing and Policy is that we should measure wellbeing more often and more comprehensively – gathering views and opinions from across the population. The Commission believes that this would help governments to improve policies, companies to raise productivity, and people live to more satisfying lives. But how many of us have ever been asked by our political representative, our employer, or our community leaders what is important to us? Do forums such as the Wikiprogress online discussion help us have a say on measuring wellbeing? Or is the ballot box the only opportunity we have to tell governments what we prioritise in our personal and community wellbeing?
In Northern Ireland, the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing has just opened up an invitation to people to tell us about what really matters to them. The views, thoughts and suggestions that we receive will feed directly in the work of the Roundtable as it carries out its work in 2014.
The aim of the Roundtable is to examine how the concept of wellbeing could help the Northern Ireland Executive to engage more effectively across government departments, with local government and wider civil society. The initiative is a partnership project between the Carnegie UK Trust and The School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast. It came together following the publication of the Trust’s Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland: A new conversation for new times discussion paper which looks at how a focus on wellbeing could drive social change, improve public services, and improve outcomes for citizens and communities. The Roundtable members include cross-party representatives, those from the third sector, academics, and local government representatives. The Roundtable also has the support of Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA and the Assembly Finance Committee Chair, Daithí McKay MLA.
The Roundtable is now inviting submissions on its work from interested parties and we are keen to receive input from a wide range of people. Individuals and organisations are invited to address one or more questions and themes on the priority challenges for wellbeing in Northern Ireland; how wellbeing can inform a shared narrative across all communities; and how an outcomes based approach could be embedded in government at all levels of Northern Ireland:
1. Is ‘wellbeing’ a useful focus for the Northern Ireland Executive, local government and partners? If you were to draft a high-level statement of purpose for the Northern Ireland Executive focusing on wellbeing, what would it be?
2. What are the priority challenges for:
a. Subjective wellbeing? (e.g. social connection, poor community relations, insecurity, identity issues, mental health, addiction etc.)
b. Objective wellbeing? (e.g. income inequality, unemployment, poor environmental protection, shelter, educational under achievement etc.)
3. Do you agree that many of the post-conflict and legacy challenges in Northern Ireland are essentially wellbeing issues that – once addressed – could unlock a more peaceful future?
4. How can wellbeing inform a shared policy narrative across central and local government in Northern Ireland?
5. How might an outcomes based approach be embedded in government at all levels in Northern Ireland? What outcomes should the Executive aspire to in the next two Programmes for Government?
6. If the Northern Ireland Executive adopted a transparent performance framework, with wellbeing as a focus for measurement, how could the Government effectively mobilize communities of users (policy designers, civil servants, local government, the private sector, NGOs, think tanks, citizens)?
Responses to these questions will be compiled and summarised alongside those from stakeholder meetings and focus groups and will be presented to the Roundtable at its next meeting. Responses should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 2 June, along with your name and organisation, if applicable, and contact details should we wish to clarify any of your remarks.
We hope that as many individuals and organisations as possible take this opportunity to have their say on what is important to their wellbeing, inform the Roundtable’s work.
Guest blog post by Carrie Exton, a policy analyst at the OECD.
The OECD Better Life Initiative is all about measuring well-being and the progress of societies. You might well wonder how anyone would go about such a gargantuan task. Surely, different people have different views about what it means to live well? How can anyone measure something so ineffable? Isn’t it all just a bit… subjective? The word well-being certainly seems open to interpretation, and societal progress might also be viewed as a matter of opinion. So the notion that someone else, be that a government, a think-tank or a charity, might want to define and measure your well-being can seem like a pretty daft exercise at best, and perhaps a rather sinister one at worst.
So why is it important to collect data about well-being, and how can we ever hope to describe such a slippery concept?
The OECD’s interest in measuring people’s well-being is largely about improving the evidence-base available for policy-makers. To understand whether policies are working, and to hold governments to account, it is important to measure whether life is getting better – and for whom. There is fairly widespread agreement that “better lives” means more than just GDP growth, but how much more has remained a topic of fierce debate. How the benefits of economic growth are distributed in society is also a critical issue. The OECD has been using the word well-being as an umbrella term, encompassing a range of different individual and household-level outcomes that policy-makers might want to consider when trying to measure progress, beyond GDP.
Measuring well-being does require us to be explicit about the kind of outcomes that we value. This can be uncomfortable territory. Economists in particular often prefer to observe people’s spending patterns in markets to help them understand what people want in life. But debates about the outcomes that we value are nonetheless essential for public policy. The role of government is often cast as “correcting” areas where markets fail – which requires a good understanding of what you’d like markets to be delivering in the first place. Governments are also often tasked with making decisions about things that money alone simply cannot buy, ranging from people’s health through to their safety and security. Having better evidence about well-being can make discussions about what governments are aiming for, and whether they are achieving it, a more transparent debate.
Although values and norms necessarily play a role in how well-being is defined, things can get a bit more concrete when we start to talk about measurement. In particular, there is an emerging consensus that several objective outcomes contribute towards people’s well-being, and should therefore be included in measurement efforts: things like health, education, income, jobs, housing, the environment, governance, and personal safety. The importance of “softer” outcomes, such as social connections, work and life balance, and subjective well-being (i.e. people’s own feelings and experiences of life) is also increasingly recognised.
The OECD framework for measuring well-being builds on a body of literature and a wide range of international examples, focusing on areas where existing frameworks align. Reducing well-being to a complex set of numbers might seem like a blunt tool for public policy, but defining a country’s progress in terms of GDP alone is surely a lacklustre alternative. The national-level data compiled by the OECD also seeks to complement rather than supplant the more detailed information that countries collect at the regional level, and the richer and more qualitative evidence available at a more grass-roots and community level.
Does this mean that with all the evidence and data being collected, the OECD can tell you how to maximise your own well-being? Well, no. At the moment, what we have is more like a list of ingredients for well-being, rather than a recipe for combining them. Of course, there can be many different ways to find well-being, and both individuals and governments have to make choices about which recipe they want to follow. Nonetheless, it seems that many well-being recipes share a common set of basic ingredients. The OECD is trying to measure those ingredients, and describe how people’s access to them varies in different countries, and across different groups in society. For those who want to know more, How’s Life? and the Better Life Index are good places to start.
March 2014 saw the publication of what could become a momentous report, that of The Commission on Wellbeing and Policy chaired by former UK Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell. It makes the case for putting the pursuit of wellbeing at the heart of public policy. Though very challenging – difficulties over definition, data, key drivers of change, and the ‘why bother, what difference would it make?’ question – this new report tackles the prickly issues head on. How can the traditional cost-benefit analysis that policy is traditionally based on effectively incorporate well-being? The report explores how public policies can be designed to enhance social and personal wellbeing, basing appraisals on changes in wellbeing, rather than income. It examines what are understood to be strong determinants of wellbeing and discusses a range of possible public policies, focusing on four areas:
The report concludes:
“We should treat mental ill health as professionally as physical ill health, support parents, and build character and resilience in schools. At the community level, we should promote volunteering and giving, address loneliness, and create a built environment that is sociable and green. As well as promoting economic growth, we should aim to reduce unemployment through active welfare policies and encourage businesses to promote wellbeing at work. We should treat citizens with respect and empower them more.”
Wellbeing ought to be measured more often and comprehensively. It would help improve policies, raise business productivity, and enhance people’s life satisfaction.
Access the report and related resources here:
Hello everyone! I’m Marie-Amélie Viatte, one of the GLADS team members. I’m French and thought that it’d be nice to bring you a view on well-being from across the Channel.
One of the GLADS themes at the forthcoming May event (14-15th in Edinburgh, for your diary) is “place and space” and so the example of what the city of Nantes (in the West of France) has been doing with its public space is worth having a look at.
Nantes is located on the Loire River, close to the Atlantic coast; with 600,000 inhabitants, it is France’s sixth largest city. Its Green Capital of Europe award in 2013 gives an indication of its efforts to maximise its inherent green character for the benefit of all. In Nantes, everyone lives within 500m of a park. That’s a great asset in itself, but that’s not all for the City’s authorities have actively promoted the importance of the city for nature conservation and the critical role nature plays in enhancing people’s well-being.
Amongst the City’s innovative projects are the “gourmet stops”: ten edible gardens of fruit trees planted throughout the city, including three in the heart of the city centre. Inspired by Todmorden’s Incredible Edible community project in the UK, Nantes City Council invites its citizens and visitors to stop by, pick some delicious, tree-ripened cherries, peaches, apricots, plums and pears, and take a seat at the picnic tables provided. Free for all! The experience goes beyond the culinary: it’s apparently attracted a great social mix, has encouraged people to slow down and reconnect, thus creating a civic space with great well-being benefits.
The City has also created floating gardens on the river Erdre, of both aesthetic and environmental value. The aim is to enhance the quality of the natural environment by creating new habitats for flora and fauna usually found far away from urban centres, and at the same time providing an attractive green space for the enjoyment of all.
A third project that resonated with me is about a roof – not the usual type, strictly forbidden to ‘unauthorised persons’ but one where children are actively encouraged to go and have a wander. Nantes’ Aimé Césaire Primary School has a green roof, of a rather amazing sort it seems. It contains dunes and heathland in an attempt to recreate a typical Atlantic coast ecosystem and encourage the native biodiversity of the wider region to visit the city. It also contains narrow paths to facilitate the children’s exploration of what sounds like a fabulous on-site educational resource. Interesting for its multi-purpose use: this roof ecosystems is also used by the City’s science department as an open air laboratory to study the resilience of these particular plants in an urban environment.
Food for thought…
Source: Terre Sauvage No. 301, February 2014
Wellbeing, meaning and measurement
The 2014 Scottish Universities Insight Institute (SUII) seminar series on wellbeing is a timely opportunity to explore the concept from diverse perspectives. I am part of the Good Lives and Decent Societies (GLADS) team, considering individual and societal factors to support wellbeing across relevant policy areas.
The first of three events in the series took place on 25th February. A unifying concern on this day was to expand understanding of societal progress on more than economic measures, to include wellbeing and sustainability. The opening contributions from GLADS team members set the discussion in the context of historical Scottish figures, from Adam Smith to Samuel Smiles. We were also invited to consider the plethora of wellbeing models already in operation, including an appraisal of their strengths and limitations. http://www.scottishinsight.ac.uk/Programmes/Wellbeing2014/GLADSGoodLivesAndDecentSocieties.aspx
Attempts to agree on a definition of wellbeing stirred up a lively debate, particularly on whether wellbeing or happiness was the more useful concept, and questions of wellbeing measurement were more contentious still.
This first seminar provided an opportunity to consider how wellbeing and its measurement relate to a 2013/14 ESRC research project of which I am co-investigator: Meaningful and Measurable. The project builds on ten years of research and knowledge exchange on the theme of personal outcomes, largely in heath and social care. We have worked with the Scottish Government and national agencies since 2006, figuring out how to embed personal outcomes in practice. This approach has helped us to develop a language to understand wellbeing via subjective measurement of progress towards particular outcomes.
A central shift in focus has been to move away from service led approaches towards clarifying the purpose of engagement and activity, considering the role and assets of the person. Talking Points personal outcomes approach involves engaging with the individual about their priorities, through good conversations and communication, and basing decisions and any support required around those priorities. The approach has demonstrated the importance of focusing on three types of outcome:
• Quality of life outcomes, such as being as well as you can and feeling safe
• Change outcomes, associated with recovery, such as improving confidence and managing symptoms
• Process outcomes, which include being listened to and respected.
The approach fits well with work by Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi who argue that a multidimensional definition is required for understanding wellbeing. http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/documents/rapport_anglais.pdf
We have found it is possible to measure outcomes at the individual level, and through combining and analysing scale measure and qualitative data, to understand what is working with regard to outcomes at service level. In many areas in Scotland this information is feeding into planning and community development. Interestingly, where qualitative data is being used, this highlights the importance of conversations and relationships for people engaging with services over time. Good engagement with individuals already achieves outcomes, through providing an opportunity to be heard, to reflect, and to consider themselves as active participants in shaping their lives.
The central concern throughout has been the tension between the improvement potential of engaging with individuals in working towards optimal wellbeing and independence, and the performance management agenda. We are now in the midst of the knowledge exchange project which involves 3 universities, 8 practice partners and 4 national organisations, seeking to further reconcile meaning and measurement in the context of people’s lives.
The first GLADS seminar highlighted themes that resonate strongly. These include the need to develop a common language, and common definitions. And in particular, with regard to measurement, Neil Thin questioned an over reliance on statistical means of measuring wellbeing, or ‘pathological numerophilia’, arguing for a broader approach to understanding wellbeing, based on conversations.
Our second GLADS seminar raises practical challenges for my quest to link with the Meaningful and Measurable project, as the second two day ‘data retreat’ for the latter is being held on the same dates as the GLADS workshop. However, given both events are in Edinburgh I am sure we will find a way of making a link, which can be pursued further in the final GLADS seminar in June.
Welcome to the GLADS blog! Please click on the ‘About’ tab to find out the background to this project and get in touch – by email, Twitter, or here via this blog – to contribute to this knowledge exchange series.
With this project, we want to facilitate a better understanding, assessment and promotion of well-being by examining the social, economic and environmental dimensions of individual happiness and a good society.
Our project builds on the Scottish Futures Forum’s Rethinking Wellbeing seminar series in 2012-13 which aimed to contribute to the development of policy and practice in Scotland and further afield, including the refinement of the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework ‘Scotland Performs’.
A central tenet of GLADS is to develop a multidisciplinary approach and engage with a wide range of audiences, reaching out of academia into the public, private and third sectors to explore how, practically, well-being can be incorporated into decision-making both in policy circles and through action on the ground.
The launch event provided an overview of what’s been studied by various actors such as the OECD, the ONS, Oxfam, and academics, thus serving as a stock-taking exercise. You can access the background briefing and presentations on our website. In our next event, on 14-15 May, we will endeavour to examine the relevance of well-being to a number of subject areas – health, place/space, and employment/ work – and discuss potential strategies for embedding the pursuit of societal well-being into decisions and actions.
Please follow us on Twitter and keep an eye out for more details on the programme. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to take part.