Leading members of the three main political parties addressed the second meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics yesterday, with a striking degree of consensus that well-being should urgently rise up the political agenda. Labour peer Professor Lord Richard Layard, Oliver Letwin MP, Chair of the Conservative Research Department and Policy Review and Chris Huhne MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, all agreed that GDP fails as an adequate measure of welfare and pointed to the need for a new way of measuring the things that are really important. The comments of all three speakers supported the aims of the Group, for which nef acts as the secretariat, to challenge GDP as the sole indicator of wealth and promote new measures of societal progress.
The speakers agreed that policy-making should be much more focused on what well-being research tell us are the drivers of high well-being, with lots of emphasis given to the importance of supporting good relationships. But there was not unanimity on all points of policy. For example, only Chris Huhne mentioned, as a strong argument in favour of progressive taxation, the varying well-being value of an extra pound of income to people with different levels of economic wealth.
However, there was general consent to the proposition that without a strong headline measure to rival GDP, the well-being agenda would not get the attention it requires. Oliver Letwin perhaps went furthest in this direction. He spoke of the ‘terrible danger’ that the Conservatives would find themselves in government and under pressure to focus only on traditional political issues unless a ‘serious, competing measure’ of well-being could be produced. He pointed to the need for all three parties to act in step to create a ‘political licence to talk about what really matters’. As Chair Jo Swinson MP pointed out, this is exactly what the ongoing work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group will aim to bring about.