National Well-being — Question for Short Debate
Baroness Tyler of Enfield (Liberal Democrat)
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to promote and measure well-being and what role public policy should play in shaping national well-being.
Baroness Tyler of Enfield (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I would like to thank noble Lords who have found time in this very busy period to speak in this debate and I hope that it has not been too much to the detriment of their own well-being.
Why would I want to talk about well-being today and why do I think that it is important? We all know intuitively what well-being is but there is as yet no standard definition. There is general agreement from the growing body of social science research that a combination of physical, social, environmental and psychological factors influence well-being. Good mental and emotional health is a crucial element of well-being, but by no means the whole story. A good deal of work has already been undertaken to measure well-being and happiness at community and individual levels. This has demonstrated positive factors, such as good relationships, being employed and being financially secure, along with negative factors such as poor relationships, family bereavement, poor health and unemployment.
Back in 2008 the Government Office for Science's Foresight report on mental capital and well-being referred to mental well-being as,
"a dynamic state, in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community. It is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil their personal and social goals and achieve a sense of purpose in society".
I think that sums it up very nicely.
Many thinkers, commentators and social scientists are giving the issue of well-being an increasing amount of attention and the idea has started to creep into the mainstream of public policy and political thinking. All three parties are starting to talk about well-being and quality of life, albeit in their own ways and using their own language. I would go so far as to say that it has prompted quite a deep philosophical debate about the central purpose of public policy and indeed government itself. I sense a greater recognition that economic growth is a means to an end rather than an end in itself and that good government is ultimately about improving the lives and well-being of our fellow citizens. But it is undoubtedly a very tough time to be having these sorts of ideas and of course sceptics are bound to view it as a distraction from our very pressing economic concerns.
In November 2010 the Prime Minister announced:
"From April next year we will start measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving, not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life. We'll continue to measure GDP as we've always done, but it is high time we admitted that, taken on its own, GDP is an incomplete way of measuring a country's progress".
He added-and I give him all due credit for doing this:
"To those who say that all this sounds like a distraction from the serious business of government, I would say that finding out what will really improve lives end acting on it is actually the serious business of government".
The practical outcome is that the Office for National Statistics has been tasked with consulting on the development of new well-being measures that cover the quality of life of people in the UK, environmental and sustainability issues, as well the economic performance of the country.
Well-being clearly depends not just on the circumstances of people's lives but on how they interpret and respond to those circumstances. Recent welcome policy initiatives, such as the promotion of emotional resilience among children in schools and the expansion of psychological therapies focus, on which I am sure we will hear more from the noble Lord, Lord Layard, all rightly recognise this. On the bright side, the very recent ONS statistics, which came out in December, found that around three-quarters of adults in the UK rated their own life satisfaction as seven or more out of 10. These findings also found that having a partner and being in good health were positively associated with life satisfaction. Some people considered these results surprisingly positive, given all the doom and gloom around, and it sparked the inevitable quips about the usefulness of what has been dubbed the "happiness index" from various quarters. Next year we will have much richer data when the ONS has the results from the full 200,000 households that are currently being surveyed.
I believe that a single national measure of well-being should help generate a national debate about what really matters to people. "If you treasure it, measure it" is a good adage. It will be relevant to government, of course, but also to employers, the media, the producers of consumer goods and many others involved in our national life. Others are calling for a wider set of indicators that local communities can use to measure their population's well-being against other communities. Given the general thrust towards localism, this has much to commend it, and I would be very interested to hear from the Minister what he thinks on this.
There is much evidence, to which I have alluded, about what is important to well-being. It includes income, loss of income, unemployment, being able to do interesting and stretching work, the number of hours worked, commuting, consumption decisions, debt, being able to walk around the local neighbourhood, being able to participate in community activities, volunteering and trust in local institutions. It is a very long list. I do not have time to go through it in any detail here. Evidence shows a clear relationship between levels of well-being and inequality when different countries are compared. Well-being tends to be lower in countries with higher inequality of income and wealth. It is important to understand that. Equally, in terms of what drives well-being, evidence from surveys and research is quite consistent about what matters most in people's lives. Individuals across nations and social classes put more value on non-monetary assets than on their financial situation. Indeed, quite often in surveys the biggest factors by far that influence people's happiness are their family relationships and their relationship with their partner.
Turning to the workplace, Dame Carol Black's review of the health of the working-age population in 2008 identified business as a key partner in promoting or otherwise adult health and well-being across Britain. According to that review, the annual economic costs of sickness absence and worklessness associated with ill health and well-being were over a staggering £100 billion, which is greater than the annual budget of the NHS.
Where does all this lead me? I would like to draw three conclusions. First, well-being should be a key political priority, as it encompasses the things that are most important for our society as a whole and to us as individuals. While prioritising well-being includes ensuring that we have a stable and thriving economy, it crucially also takes a much broader view of success than can be measured in just economic terms.
Secondly, we should warmly welcome the fact that the UK Government are now measuring people's subjective well-being in a substantial and meaningful way. I think it is important that we keep a cross-party consensus going on the importance of this. Thirdly, we need to move rapidly from measurement to action. Measurement on its own achieves very little, so it is essential that we reshape the processes of policy development, implementation and evaluation to take well-being into account as soon as we can. There are some encouraging signs here, with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, already ensuring that guidance for policy-makers is being updated so that well-being is taken into account. That includes the Treasury Green Book, which will be well known to some, and the setting up of the Social Impacts Task Force within government. Taken together, I very much hope that these measures will finally lead to that holy grail of truly joined-up policy-making in Whitehall. I know from many years' experience in Whitehall how very difficult that is.
I welcome this focus on practical action. Nowhere is this more important than in family policy and the services available to support families and children, including help with parenting. We heard recently from the 2011 UNICEF child well-being report that British parents often feel stressed and lack the time or, indeed, the confidence to build a strong nurturing relationship with their children and family. Sometimes that gap is filled by a focus on material things and consumer goods. The message from children themselves was clear. Their well-being centred firmly on being able to spend time with a happy family whose interactions with them were consistent and secure, having good friends and having plenty of things to do outside the home.
That is why I think that personal, social and health education, focusing on the importance of relationships, is so critical and should form part of the core national curriculum and include a strong focus on emotional well-being. It is no co-incidence that schools that have pioneered this sort of approach, where well-being and building positive relationships run through the whole school ethos and curriculum and where counselling is available for those who need it, say that there is a clear link to improved academic performance. It is also why I would like to see counselling and other types of emotional support available in all schools in England, as it is currently in Wales and Northern Ireland.
I can think of no better way of concluding my opening remarks than to quote the oft-quoted words of Bobby Kennedy in a speech more than 40 years ago. I know noble Lords will have heard them before, but I will say them again. He said that GDP,
"does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play ... It measures ... neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile".
Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Tyler for raising a very interesting and important question. I attended the seminar held about six weeks ago in Portcullis House at which Sir Gus O'Donnell spoke about the work that the Office for National Statistics is doing on measuring well-being. I am interested in this topic because, as an economist, I have always been aware of the shortcomings of GDP measurement and of how much more there is to life than just the goods and services on which monetary value can be placed. Yet there is the difficulty of developing any proxy that tries to measure these other things in life. I remember the early days of cost-benefit analysis, when we had the Roskill report on the third London airport and the lengthy deliberation over what value one would place on a Norman church. The value that was put on it in the study was the value that the parochial church council had placed on it for insurance value, but the council admitted that that was the value that it felt it could afford to put on the church rather than any real valuation.
There are very real difficulties here, and there is the conundrum that many of us have pondered over for a very long time. I was an assistant lecturer at the LSE with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in the 1960s when the Roskill report was being deliberated over. I remember even then, at the time when GDP was going forward on a fairly regular basis, there was the conundrum of why it was that if we were all getting so much richer, we were not feeling happier. This is a fundamental question that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, has been asking for some time.
I wanted to speak in this debate because I want to share with the House my experiences over the past six months when I have been leading an inquiry looking at the role of further education colleges within their communities. It fits into the scenario of the Government giving further education colleges greater flexibility over decisions about how they should spend their budgets. I was sponsored in this inquiry by the National Institute for Adult and Community Education, the AoC and the 157 Group of colleges. My remit was to look at the role that further education colleges do and can play within their communities and the added public value that their leadership can bring to those communities. It led me to do a lot of reading, a lot of visiting, a lot of talking and a lot of thinking about this subject.
My visits were perhaps disproportionately to very good colleges classed as outstanding by Ofsted. What hit me more than anything else was how brilliantly some of our colleges are reaching out to their communities and working with them in all kinds of different ways, not only in spreading the message of learning and skills but giving to those communities the self-confidence and the self-esteem that give them a much greater sense of community and, from that sense of community, a greater sense of well-being.
I would like to give three illustrations of the sorts of activities that I experienced. I visited a community hub in Bolton where the college worked alongside the local authority, using an old primary school in an area that was acknowledged to be disadvantaged. It had been going for some 20 years, and it provided the community with anything and everything from cookery classes and knitting groups through to adult literacy and numeracy. It also ran a youth group that had attached to it a boxing club and a cycle club. It served old and young alike. Graduates from the community hub had gone on to other college courses-access courses, A-levels and degrees in social work-and a lot of them had come back, stayed within the community and worked as community leaders and at the hub itself helping to bring others in. They were the activists and community leaders there; they instilled a sense of community and pride within the neighbourhood. It was this hub that organised street parties for the royal wedding. The cycle club had a sponsored ride from Land's End to John O'Groats, raising money for a local charity. The boxing club was winning trophies all across the north-west, and they were extremely proud of it. The hub was very much the centre of the community, organising it and giving it a considerable sense of pride.
Another college that I visited did a great deal of youth work. It linked up with local youth clubs, the local police and youth offending teams. It provided for those young people facilities where they could meet, sports activities such as football and basketball, in addition to things like motorcycle maintenance classes. It brought in young people to use the college facilities so that they might get used to the idea of coming into college. Having seen the facilities and the classes that were being run, they might be induced to sign up for some of them. They turned from being NEETs-those not in employment, education or training-into being in training and very often going on to further qualifications. Again, it was an obvious linking up.
At another college, the principal discovered that the local PCT was having great difficulty in meeting its young people's well-being and health targets. He said, "Well, why don't you come and work from within the college?" This was set up and the PCT within two weeks had hit the yearly targets which it had failed to meet for the previous two or three years. It now provides within the college a well-being centre for young people. It is a win-win situation, because the PCT has hit its targets; teenage pregnancies are noticeably down within the community; and college attendance rates are noticeably up. In addition to that, the nurse function within the college is now paid for by the PCT, which provides the staff for the well-being centre.
I found all this extremely encouraging. It seemed to me that there were three elements in this success. One was leadership, another was partnership, and the third was vision. The college leadership provided the catalyst for those partnerships to be formed, and the partnerships led to greater involvement in the community. Social energy is unleashed. As a result of this activity, I found myself reading over the summer the work of the Royal College of Arts on social productivity. It seemed to me that this activity displayed precisely what the college was describing. By involving people in these activities, you could unleash social activity which gave people the confidence and self-esteem which led to well-being. I coined the term-and this is the title that I gave to my report-"dynamic nucleus": colleges could be like the centre of a Catherine wheel, as a catalyst, sparking off through partnership all kinds of other activities. These activities can add considerably to social well-being.
The Bishop of Chester (Bishop)
My Lords, I think that the time permits me to speak briefly in the gap. I was not sure that I could be here in time for the debate, so I did not put my name down.
Well-being is a very fluid and flexible word, as we have heard. It is quite closely correlated with happiness. Surveys of people in employment in different professions show the clergy as among the happiest groups of workers in our country, which I do not believe has any correlation with GDP.
Certain things such as well-being or happiness arise best if you do not try to achieve them directly. Some things in life are a bit like the soap in the bath: if you try to grab hold of them, they slip out of the hand. It is a little like the character of love: you cannot force someone to love you, whoever they are. I cannot get one of my clergy by the scruff of the neck and say, "You will love me, won't you?" They may well squeak back, "Yes, Bishop", but I know that they will not really mean it. Love has to arise out of the truth, the reality and the richness of a relationship, but you cannot force it. Often in the long dynamics of a happy marriage, it is as the partners in a couple realise that they have to let the other person be who they are and not try to change them into what they would like them to be that the happiness in a marriage often develops better. In the average marriage, each partner tries to change the other one into what they would like them to be. This causes trouble for about 20 years; then they give up and are happy.
While the Government of course have a place and a role to play, part of the wisdom of government is to realise the limited place that it has. If I were to look to the future and to well-being, it would be to allow our children to be children. The surveys of the well-being and happiness of children in our society are a major worry. I correlate that partly with the fact that we start children at school so young compared with many other countries. We almost try to force children on life's journey too soon. The same is true generally of the place for what I call the intermediate institutions between government and the individual. We tend to see an oscillation in our society between the power and reach of government and perfectly proper emphasis on the freedom and rights of the individual. Both are key aspects of the dynamics of society, but they very easily squeeze the intermediate social or human institutions, which are largely those which promote well-being and happiness. We have gone through a period of almost trying to grasp after well-being too much.
In our increasingly diverse society, key to promoting well-being is to recognise that diversity, to allow a genuine tolerance, even of things that we do not particularly like ourselves, and almost to get into the way of thinking, "That is the way in which a mature, diverse, pluriform democracy will have to work". To some extent, that means the Government employing a self-denying ordinance.
Perhaps I may end by quoting a verse from the Bible-many on these Benches are very loath to do so in your Lordships' House. One of my favourite verses is simply:
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God ... and all these things shall be added unto you".
Happiness and well-being are in a sense the other things that are added unto us, but it is only if we divert our attention to truth, beauty and justice and all those other values that real well-being and happiness will emerge, as a by-product in one sense but as a real fruit of that perspective.
Lord Layard (Labour)
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on proposing and securing this debate. I strongly agreed with everything that she said.
I do not think that there is any issue more topical or more urgent than this. Even before the economic crisis began, people world wide were beginning to question whether economic growth really should be the key touchstone of the policies of their Governments. "Surely", people were saying, "human well-being must be the ultimate goal".
Among governmental organisations, the greatest credit goes to the OECD for being daring enough to highlight this issue in 2004 when it began the first of its great conferences on defining progress. When it comes to individual countries, Britain is seen world wide as being the country, other than Bhutan, which has done more to promote well-being as a government objective, to think about it and to move towards measuring it. It is fair to say that many people around the world are looking at Britain to see what lessons can be learnt from how we are handling these issues here.
Of course, this started under the previous Government. We had well-being divisions set up in many departments, including health, employment, education and environment, and in 2009 the Office for National Statistics began its work on how to measure our national well-being. That said, of all the political leaders in the advanced world, our present Prime Minister has been outstanding in championing the idea that well-being should be a central, if not the central, objective of government. He said it in 2006, when he first became leader of the Conservative Party and talked about general and national well-being, and he said it even more emphatically when the measurement exercise was launched last November. He was absolutely right-I am not sure whether the right reverend Prelate would agree-that if you ask what is the purpose of government, it is difficult to see any other purpose for government than to create the conditions in which people can lead happy lives. How they find happiness is a subtle matter, but the Government create many of the conditions in which people lead their lives and surely that should be the basic guiding principle. I agree with Thomas Jefferson, who said that the care of human life and happiness is the first legitimate objective of government. I challenge anyone to come up with any other legitimate objective of government.
Perhaps I may comment first on the issue of measurement and then on the policy implications of the well-being objective and the Government's performance in that respect. As the noble Baroness said, if you do the wrong thing, you search for your keys where the light is rather than where they really are. You only do the right thing if you measure the right thing.
It used to be supposed that it was impossible to measure the quality of life as people experience it in themselves, but in the past 30 years there has been an explosion of research on happiness which has shown that it is as measurable as any other internal state. We measure people's political attitudes and do not think that is highly controversial; we measure whether they are unemployed, which depends on their state of mind in the way that it is measured in our official statistics; and how to measure depression used to be a subject of controversy but it no longer is. I am quite sure that in due course we will have a settled way of measuring well-being.
We currently have a number of ways and it is absolutely clear that although none of them is perfect-no measurement of anything is perfect-the measurements we already have provide valuable and meaningful information. For example, how people reply to questions about their happiness is closely related to the objective measurements you can make of electrical activity in the relevant parts of the brain, as well as being well related to the observations made by relatives, friends and observers; and the answers that people give to these questions are explicable in terms of many of the factors such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness.
This is not the place to discuss the exact questions the ONS is trialling-I declare an interest in that I have been involved in advising it about what questions to ask-but the Office for National Statistics, under its able chief statistician, has approached this issue in a most professional way. It has been testing many alternative approaches suggested by different people in addition to the four main questions it is already asking on a routine basis. By next summer they will have been answered, over a 12-month period, by 200,000 people
It will be an important moment when those results are published because it will give us, for the first time, an account of the state of the nation in terms of what I maintain matters most-how people actually experience and evaluate their lives. I am not sure whether it would be too grand to say that this will be a moment of comparable importance to the Domesday Book, or the first census, or certainly the great Rowntree surveys of wealth and poverty. It will show us, for the first time, who in our population is in misery and who is not. Many of the results will open our eyes, as did the Domesday Book, the census and the Rowntree surveys. It will be a very important moment in how we view our country.
It is also very important that the Government have insisted that the sample is big enough to provide valid and reliable results for each local authority area. One can imagine the debates in each council when they get their results and look at the distribution-where it is good, where it is bad and how it compares with other areas. It will be a wake-up call and I would be astonished if it does not lead spontaneously to a revision of the priorities of local government and of course-it is happening already to some extent-of central government.
Once you have got the measurements the next question is: why are things like this; what can be done about it? Of course, explaining the distribution of well-being-what are the causes of misery and happiness-should be, when we take into account the indirect causes as well as the direct causes, the main task of social science. We should think about the top priorities in social science.
We already know a great deal about what are the really important factors and the noble Baroness has already said much of it. I would say that, first, comes health-and mental health above all-and next comes human relationships, family, work, community, and money also matters to everyone. However, there are two important qualifications to that on which I would like to spend a little time.
First, in a country as rich as ours, relative income matters to people more than absolute income, and as our country becomes absolutely richer we cannot all become relatively richer compared to other people in our community; if some go up, others have to go down. This helps to explain why, as the noble Baroness said, there has been no increase in measured happiness despite the huge increases in absolute income experienced over the past 60 years.
It follows from this that although we need to deal with our immediate problem of unemployment and unused human resources, we need growth in the sense that we need short-run growth to get back to a state of full employment. We should not confuse that with long-run growth, which is much less important. We are going to have to revise our priorities away from the presumption before that almost anything could be sacrificed for the sake of greater long-term growth towards one where we put more priority on human relationships relative to long-run growth. We have put excessive priority on long-run growth and we have allowed it to erode our relationships in the family, work and so on. We have allowed the banks to argue that we need a highly risky economic structure on the grounds that it might produce more and higher long-term growth and we should not continue to accept those kinds of arguments. They are probably not even true in terms of long-term growth, and they are certainly wrong in terms of our values. Economic stability is far more important than long-term growth. The other caveat about money is that an additional pound increases the happiness of a poor person more than a rich person. Roughly speaking, the value of money to a person is inversely proportional to their income.
Finally, let me say a word about how the current actions of the Government stack up against the well-being objective. The Government face many constraints. They have made many important initiatives to promote well-being; in particular I would like to mention the one that the noble Baroness referred to: their commitment to complete the national rollout of improved access to psychological therapy. But if we look at the big picture, it is difficult to claim that the Government have prioritised well-being. Across income groups, the incidence of the overall cuts-including the expenditure cuts as well as the tax benefit changes-is affecting the poor more than the rich. This is inconsistent with what I said about the value of money to different parties. Across types of activity, the cuts are affecting our systems of human support for the young, the old and the unemployed more than they are affecting our capacity to produce long-term growth.
In fact, the Government have recently been hinting that they want to switch expenditure from current expenditure, which provides support for the social sector, towards higher infrastructure spending. As a founder member of the movement called Action for Happiness, I constantly hear stories about the devastating effect of this in terms of human well-being.
Lord Layard (Labour)
I have tried to present a balanced scorecard. When the Government talk about the importance of well-being, I think it is totally sincere. It is a concern shared by all parties, but when it comes to the Government's performance in delivering well-being, I am afraid that there is room for improvement.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Whip, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I very much welcome this debate. I share with the few who have spoken my enthusiasm for the topic and my view of its importance. I therefore much regret the very small number of people speaking from all Benches. I can remember five years ago or more, in my own party's federal policy committee, being told that to have a working party on well-being and happiness was a woolly liberal topic that would arouse the scorn of the media. I read a book on happiness by one of my LSE colleagues at the time, which many thought was a woolly liberal book, written by an economist who only dared to do so because he was about to retire. The quality-of-life paper which my party debated at its last September conference was excellent. It drew on much more research than I had until then known was available. It was probably the first serious political party document that took this debate on board. I am very sorry that the Labour Party is so absent here, because it is absolutely the sort of topic that it ought to be taking on board. It is part of what our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, is talking about when he talks about Blue Labour; the importance of community; the importance of social networks; and the importance of the non-economic factors, which old Labour ignored so dreadfully when it was knocking down the old housing communities and putting up those great and soulless estates.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, says that this issue is starting to creep into the mainstream of public policy, and we must all accept that the word "creep" is important here. It has some way to go. It is also of course at the heart of the yet loosely defined concept of "big society" in the Conservative Party. I wish there were more Conservatives also taking part in this debate. There is a large cross-party, all-party debate to be had on this subject. It is still, sadly, only beginning.
I am answering this debate because, as the Cabinet Office spokesman in the Lords, I am responsible for the Office of Civil Society and answer for the Office for National Statistics-although I stress, it is an independent body to which I am answerable, but have no influence over. I think that is a very important part of this debate, because if we are talking about getting more reliable measures-measures that everyone in the debate will trust and be able to argue over-we need something like an independent Office for National Statistics to be able to hold the ground on that. I very much welcome the work that it is doing and the encouragement that the Prime Minister is giving to that.
The Stiglitz report, one of the key documents on this-after the book on happiness by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, some years before-says in its executive summary:
"What we measure affects what we do ... Choices between promoting GDP and protecting the environment may be false choices, once environmental degradation is appropriately included in our measurement of economic performance ... if our metrics of performance are flawed, so too may be the inferences that we draw".
The problem, as we all know, once one gets involved in this debate, is finding objective measures of well-being and of having to depend partly on subjective measures of well-being. The ONS is experimenting with different forms of subjective work. The international dimension of this-the OECD has already been mentioned-in the work of the Canadians, Australians and others, helps to feed in to a more informed debate. Sadly so far, on the whole, it is limited to the experts, think tanks and social science faculties, but I hope it will spill out into a national debate. As I say that, I can immediately see myself, or perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in front of Jeremy Paxman as he sneers, "Surely you don't believe that well-being has any relevance", let alone imagine what the Daily Mail will say about this. It is going to take a lot of time to build respect for a very important shift in the national debate. It starts from recognition that GDP as a measure of social progress is limited. It does not distinguish between economic activity associated with positive and negative social progress, such as the cost of long commutes, crime, divorce, dealing with natural disasters and so forth. It does not include those important functions performed in the household and voluntary sectors. What we are looking for is a means of measuring social capital and social added value as well as economic capital and economic added value.
I note also in the literature, which I have read with great interest over the last few days, that there is the question of how one measures the quality of life as well as the quantity that one consumes. The Stiglitz report was extremely valuable as a way station in this. I very much welcome the way in which our Prime Minister has taken up the debate, started under the last Government and a number of international organisations, and has done his best to take it forward. I thoroughly enjoyed his excellent speech last November, in which he said,
"it's high time we admitted that, taken on its own, GDP is an incomplete way of measuring a country's progress ... all of life can't be measured on a balance sheet".
And he recognises that,
"a new measure won't give the full story of our nation's wellbeing, or our happiness or contentment or the rest of it ... but it could give us a general picture of whether life is improving, and that does have a really practical purpose ... it will open up a national debate about what really matters".
He continues that,
"information will help government work out, with evidence, the best ways of trying to help to improve people's wellbeing".
That is what the Government are engaged in. That is what the coalition parties are entirely signed up to. We very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, will in time persuade the Labour Party to sign up to it as well-perhaps, even, to understand the purpose of what is now under way.
As has already been mentioned, the ONS is designing the best measures that it can and is undertaking a large-scale survey, the results of which will be published next July. I hope that will take us on to the next stage in a widening public debate. This will look at a range of areas, including social interaction, relationships, family, community, volunteering, the whole concept of fairness-relative incomes have been mentioned-and a sense of having control over one's own life. That is a very important set of questions. These are factors that can clearly be influenced and shaped by public policy. To make a slightly partisan point, my dislike for socialism was nurtured by being a candidate in Manchester and working on those huge rebuilt council estates. I fought a constituency in 1974 where 98 per cent of the population lived in council accommodation, mostly flats. I had some real argument with the city planners, who thought that they knew best what was needed for the people who lived in those houses. It was a concept of passive citizenship, in which people had things done for them but had no control over their own lives. That is part of what we have to reverse, and part of what Labour in particular has to reverse, in some of the old Labour thinking that is still there.
We are making progress. Some of these data do not entirely relate to what government can do, but there are very wide implications for public policy across the board. The much greater importance that we need to give to the whole question of mental health is part of this. I thought that the Public Health White Paper took us one small step in the right direction in that. We all know that depression is the opposite of well-being, and looking at well-being takes us into that whole area.
I myself am very much struck by the importance of the built environment. It is the opposite of the central Manchester council estates in Saltaire, which is a wonderful community. We are forced to live next to each other, because it is all terraced housing. We have green space-there is a park. There is an institute at the centre of the village, and we all as a result know each other and interact with each other. It has a real sense of social capital. Even from just spending the weekends there, I know many more people in Saltaire than I do in my neighbourhood in London. I hope that I do not sound too much like Prince Charles in wanting to build that sort of community, but there are some real questions about the lack of wisdom of building those new estates on the edge of towns with two car spaces outside every house where you absolutely do not interact with your neighbours. You do not have a local high street or a community pub, and as a result you grow up without interacting with your neighbours. So neighbourhood, community and a sense of self-control are all part of this.
That takes us on to the localism agenda, which the coalition agenda is developing. We still have quite a long way to go. Being in control of your own lives also means having more self-government; it means encouraging active citizenship. Many of us also think that it means more urban parish councils and more local, local government. That is something that we have to work on to reverse the alienation of so much of our population from our current style of politics, with the passive observance of Prime Minister's Question Time as a form of distant entertainment that in no sense involves you.
So this has very large implications for consumer culture and the extent to which marketing and advertising encourage people to substitute buying things for actually thinking what they really want. There is the question of how far government policy should attempt to alter the way in which marketing and advertising go. There is the whole question of social trust and social capital. So we have a very long way to go.
I welcome the little remnant of us who have taken on this debate, all calling for a wider national debate, which shifts the national debate on to a new ground. It is a huge challenge to the conventional wisdom and a challenge to all political parties. It is also a challenge to the economics profession, which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Layard, continues to push. I hope for further debate in this Chamber as part of the wider debate, and I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Layard, that he persuades Labour Peers to give the subject a full Thursday afternoon debate, or as full as possible, because this is a challenge to us all.