Letter for publication in response to an article in the Financial Times, 10 March 2012
I am writing in response to Tim Harford’s article 'Sex, shopping and the statistics of happiness’ (Financial Times Saturday March 10, 2012). In the amusing, but shallow, article the ONS's Measuring National Well-being Programme was mentioned but unfortunately the author clearly missed the point. This programme is about listening to grass roots opinion and building measures to go beyond established measures of economic well-being. We are doing this with the clear expectation that this might influence the shape of government policy, as well as commercial and individual decisions, and lead to better lives.
The aim is to develop and publish an accepted and trusted set of National Statistics to help people understand and monitor how the UK is doing, both in terms of current well-being and longer term sustainability. It is increasingly understood that traditional economic measures of progress such as GDP are necessary, but not sufficient to reflect a nation’s overall well-being.
The first phase of the programme was the national debate. ONS held 175 events, involving around 7,250 people. In total, including on-line, the debate generated 34,000 responses, some of which were from organisations and groups representing thousands more. The debate helped us identify the key areas that matter most to the public, such as health, education and employment.
Statistics are the bedrock of democracy. The ONS National Well-being Programme should enable people to better understand the economic, social and environmental position of the UK. The ONS measures will only be of value if they help people make decisions about their own lives, such as where to live or what career to choose, and if they help governments and businesses make policies, products and services to improve the well-being of the nation.
Measuring National Well-being Programme Director, Office for National Statistics