Bookmark and ShareJuliet Michaelson is a researcher at nef‘s centre for well-being.

nef is on the road to producing a second set of its National Accounts of Well-being, as part of a successful bid to design a 50-item module of well-being questions on a prestigious European survey.

The original National Accounts of Well-being, published in January 2009, produced headline measures of personal and social well-being for 22 countries across Europe. The indicators and their constituent elements were made available for full interactive exploration on www.nationalaccountsofwellbeing.org. The results showed that Denmark, Switzerland and Norway had the highest levels of overall well-being, with the UK ranked 13th out of 22 on personal well-being and 15th on social well-being.

The data behind these results came from a specially designed module on the third round of the European Social Survey (ESS), a major survey of over 40,000 people across Europe. The module was designed by a cross-national team of experts from across Europe, led by Professor Felicia Huppert of the University of Cambridge and including the Founder of the centre for well-being at nef, Nic Marks. Together with two other members of the original team, Professor Johannes Siegrist of the University of Dusseldorf and Professor Joar Vittersø of the University of Tromsø, and new member Professor Carmelo Vázquez of Complutense University of Madrid, we have now won the opportunity to design a repeat of the well-being module to be included in the sixth round of the ESS.

The new well-being module will repeat many of the original questions, which will allow ground-breaking analysis of detailed changes in well-being over time between participating European countries. In addition, the successful bid outlines the team’s intention to explore a number of new questions, including further measures of engagement, social well-being, and participation in activities described by our evidence-based Five Ways to Well-being.

Bookmark and ShareJuliet Michaelson is a researcher at nef‘s centre for well-being.

‘ “Want to grab some lunch?” ask a couple of colleagues as they walk past your desk’. This is the unconventional opening of the excellent MINDSPACE report on influencing behaviour through public policy, here taking its own advice in making information seem relevant to the people at whom it is aimed (in this case, civil servants designing policy).

Commissioned by the Cabinet Office and published earlier this year by the Institute for Government, MINDSPACE is a mnemonic for nine key influences on behaviour which should be given attention in the policy-making process. Drawn from the extensive literature on what influences our behaviour, MINDSPACE sets out that: we are heavily affected by the Messenger delivering information; respond to Incentives through shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses; we are influenced by the Norms of what others do; go with the flow of Defaults; we are drawn to Salient information and Primed by sub-conscious cues; are strongly influenced by Affect, that is, our emotional experiences; seek to be consistent to the public Commitments we make and act in ways which make us feel better about ourselves and thus protect our Ego.

The report contains lots of illuminating examples showing how these influences can be and have been used in designing policy. It also makes two very important observations about policy making as a whole. First, that

whether we like it or not, the actions of policymakers, public service professionals, markets and our fellow citizens around us have big, and often unintended, impacts on our behaviour. ‘Doing nothing’ is never a neutral option

This is of key relevance to those of us advocating a well-being led approach to policy-making. While we are often accused of wanting policy to overly interfere in people’s lives, in fact, given that all policy affects behaviour, it is also very likely to affect how people experience their lives. So policy-makers should see themselves as having to ensure that the effects they create through their policy decisions are postive rather than negative to well-being overall.

The second key observation is that

Government needs to understand the ways it may be changing the behaviour of citizens unintentionally…some priming effects work in surprising ways.

For me, this is an excellent summary of the reasons why nef advocates using well-being measures as ultimate indicators of society’s progress. When government focuses its energies on the growth of the country’s GDP, we are thereby primed to behave as though economic factors are the most important influence on our personal well-being, although the evidence, and much of our ‘folk knowledge’, suggests otherwise. By concentrating instead on the well-being outcomes of its policies, government could help us all to improve our own well-being by prioritising what really matters.

Bookmark and ShareTony Greenham is head of the finance and business programme at nef.

There was much to discuss in yesterday’s Mansion House speech, but I would like to focus on one disappointment and one pleasant surprise.

First the disappointment; the five members of the new Independent Commission on Banking are all economists and bankers of the highest calibre and integrity. Some are on record with quite strident views about the ills of our banking system and quite radical prescriptions for their cure.

But they are all, well…, bankers and economists.

If we are to truly create a system as Mr Osborne says, where “banks support the people, instead of the people bailing out the banks”, we need to understand HOW the banks need to support the people.

  • Can these five commissioners really understand the needs of small businesses?
  • Can they really understand the needs of social enterprises, and local regeneration?
  • Will they consider the still shameful lack of access to finance experienced by many of our citizens?
  • Do they understand the urgent need for massive investment in decarbonising the UK economy?

We do not know yet how the commission will carry out its remit. It should ensure it builds a broad, credible and comprehensive stakeholder consultation on the needs of the users of the banking system, and not just get lost in the technical details of restructuring the banks.

Which leads me to the pleasant surprise.

The new commission’s terms of reference are not limited to the question of splitting investment and retail banking. They include the Government’s wider goal of “creating an efficient, open, robust and diverse banking sector”.

This last point – diversity – is crucial. To meet all society’s needs, the banking system should comprise many different kinds of institution: different in industry sector skills and expertise, different in regional and local focus, different in forms of ownership, different in investment horizons, different in culture and goals.

It’s not just that we need to look at breaking up the massive universal banks we have today, we need to look at how to build up the alternative and diverse institutions we need tomorrow.

Bookmark and Sharelindsay-mackie2Lindsay Mackie is a consultant at nef. She is leading nef’s post office campaign and works on Clone Town and Ghost Town Britain.

Let’s hope, as the chancellor prepares his Mansion House speech on Wednesday evening, that he has already included brave words about the banks along the lines of “I know that the cuts I am announcing are in part the result of banking folly and greed. And so I am entirely with my colleague Vince Cable, who is even now preparing root-and-branch banking reform. We cannot have a public service cuts programme without the banks being equally painfully reformed.”

To help him in this decision, let’s also hope that some brave Treasury official slides across to him the following info from Britain’s small businesses.

Around a quarter of them are deeply fed up with the banks’ lack of business support, particularly credit availability. Nearly half of them don’t even have a local bank manager. Thousands of them have had to deal with not one, two or even three business managers at their bank in the past two years, but four or more.

Since the height of the crisis last year, the 213,000-strong Federation of Small Businesses has been polling its members monthly and collecting this kind of information. These are the people on whom local economies, and the national economy, depend. And the banking system treats them appallingly.

They are joined of course by the poor and the unbanked – its reckoned that 2 million people have no access to a bank account. The numbers of people falling into the hands of loan sharks (1,800% interest, threats thrown in for free) are already increasing.

Now, as George Osborne prepares to throw raw meat to the deficit hawks at the Mansion House, he cannot ignore the banks’ failure. He should not be contemplating cuts that will hurt the economy and individuals without announcing banking reform at the same time. Does he, or does he not, agree with his colleague Cable, who said in his first public speech in government two weeks ago that we have “a seriously dysfunctional banking system”?

Taking on the banks is absolutely crucial and there is a movement growing around it. The Future of Banking Commission yesterday called for regulation and separation of functions and – most importantly – transparency, so that we can see where and to whom banks lend. The Better Banking Coalition is powerfully arguing for real and fair help from banks – who will have to be forced to do it – for the unbanked and the less well off. The Post Bank Coalition, of which the new economics foundation is a member, wants a publicly owned local banking network based on the Post Office. It’s a popular and ingenious idea and bedrock small businesses want it.

The chancellor will be surrounded by the City, literally and metaphorically, at Mansion House tonight. That food on those exquisite plates will be hard to swallow if he does not announce painful banking and reform along with the cuts for the rest of us.

Bookmark and ShareAndrew Simms is nef‘s Policy Director and head of nef’s Climate Change programme.

A  protestor holds up her own version of the BP logo, dripping with oil.As names go, the First Exploitation Company sounds like an inspired slight dreamed up by an angry anti-oil campaigner. In fact, it was the original title, coined in 1903, of the troubled company we now know as BP. But then, public relations have never been its strong point.

Over the course of a century BP, in its various guises, has managed to outrage everyone from revolutionary nationalist leaders in the Middle East to Britain’s supposedly closest ally. Now Barack Obama has ensured that BP is Public Enemy No 1 in the United States (tonight, he will make his first address to the nation direct from the White House to stress the point).

In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP is being freely compared in the US to those poster boys of corporate malfeasance, Enron and Worldcom. Beleaguered chief-executive Tony Hayward may not be Bernie Madoff, but hate mail and threatening phone calls have been directed at him and his family. Hayward is now reportedly undergoing training in front of a so-called “murder board” of legal experts to prepare him for the aggressive questioning he will face from the Congressional Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in Washington on Thursday.

BP’s share price is tumbling, as its expected liabilities from the spill – estimated at anywhere up to $40bn (£27bn) – climb so high that the financial markets are giving the company’s debt a “junk” rating. Speculation over BP’s future has ranged from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to a possible takeover by one of its giant rivals, Exxon Mobil or Chevron.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bookmark and ShareJuliet Michaelson is a researcher at nef‘s centre for well-being.

TED, the organisers of high profile conferences devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ have just announced the line up for next month’s TEDGlobal 2010, which includes not one, but two nef Fellows.  Nic Marks, Founder of nef‘s centre for well-being and creator of the Happy Planet Index will be taking the stage in Oxford in the opening session of the conference, on 13 July, followed two day’s later by nef fellow Tim Jackson, author of the ground-breaking Prosperity Without Growth. Other speakers  include David McCandless, author of the Information Is Beautiful blog, architect David Adjaye, and singer Annie Lennox, talking about her work on HIV/AIDS.

If you’ve never visited the TED site, its back catalogue of talks by a dazzling array of speakers from previous conferences is highly recommended viewing. A few gems from the all-time favourites category include Ken Robinson on why schools kill creativity, Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice, Dan Gilbert on what makes us happy, and Hans Rosling in the most spectacular talk on statistics in the whole world, ever.

Bookmark and ShareRupert Crilly is a researcher in Environmental Economics at nef

No one really expects governments to be consistent. I’m not talking about election times – we’ve all been watching the Conservatives doing their spring clean of the Labour closets – but about the mixed messages from different government departments, delegates, ministers and so on. Indeed, the chasm between what they say and what they do rarely fails to swallow up a few gullible casualties. But when it comes to biodiversity and our environment, the temptation to cash in on our natural resources is usually so great that we all pretty much expect it- while being told something completely different. Is it time, when we’re losing species this fast, to make a change? Our hard-learned lesson is, preserving our environment is preserving our economy. Until this is fully realised, don’t look for the promises, look for the action- if you can find it…

European Fish Week

This week is marked by European Fish Week, a rallying call to help the vast, silent, emptying oceans (sign the petition here). If you think that sounds dramatic, consider this figure – 88% of EU fish stocks are overfished. Eighty-eight per cent! And how did it get this bad? Well, a big problem is that decision makers (like the European Fisheries Ministers) don’t really listen to the scientists they hire. Fishing quotas are consistently set far above the limits recommended by scientists that would, if adhered to, prevent the stocks from further depletion. In the past, quotas for blue-tuna have been set 47% over scientific recommendations. If you’re interested in the health of our seas I’d also strongly recommend this video by respected scientist Jeremy Jackson, and this one by Silvia Earle, former chief scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Clearly, when it comes to the oceans, we all know who the losing side is. Sometimes, though, the economic bulldozers are hushed by the echo of the penny dropping: we are on the same side. It’s little surprise, then, that as the fishing industry flags, things start to move: a federal investigation in Canada will begin next week to study the decline of sockeye salmon stocks, when only about one million of an expected 10.6-million returned to the Fraser River. There even promises to be a contentious look at the impacts of salmon farming on these stocks.

Whaling

Whaling’s another good example of the tensions that exist between commercial interests and the conservation of the natural environment. The illegal whaling (let’s not kid ourselves) by Japan is being legally challenged by Australia (we’ll see what that does). Also, and maybe I’m being overly-optimistic here, the trial of the ‘Toyko Two’ Greenpeace activists could work to expose the whale meat trade (reaching as far away as Californian restaurants!)- perhaps a little hope for the ocean titans. Then again, there’s the news that President Obama may be looking to reverse the ban on whaling. Hmm. And what is the EU- we know their record on fishing- doing about all of this? Your guess is as good as mine.

(Image source: © Greenpeace) Read the rest of this entry »

Bookmark and ShareAndrew Simms is nef‘s Policy Director and head of nef’s Climate Change programme.

We need a universal banking obligation. It would mean that everyone, by right, would have access to the full range of banking services – whereas at the moment, one of the great fights with the banks has been the way they’ve chosen customers to maximise profitability and created finance deserts for poor communities. On the ground, it propels people into the hands of vulture lenders with baseball bats.

We also need a green investment bank. The big question is how it should be funded. Some suggest creaming off the proceeds of the European Emissions Trading Scheme, or you could have a windfall tax on the fossil fuel companies, or carbon bonds – there are lots of ideas. And here’s one that could be a poetic test case: the Royal Bank of Scotland used to advertise itself as the Oil and Gas Bank. Given that RBS is now in the hands of the taxpayer, why not turn it into the Royal Bank of Sustainability?

Finally, Labour should aim at launching a competition inquiry into the big banks, and breaking them up. The great paradox of what happened after the crash was that banks that were already too big to fail got even bigger. Major action is needed to stop banks holding the country to ransom.

From today’s Guardian. Original article includes contributions from Sunder Katwala, Pam Giddy, Will Straw and Joss Garman.

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Officer and blogmaster.

David Cameron yesterday described the need to make drastic cuts as “critical” and “urgent”. He said that his predcessors in government had “thought the good times would go on forever”, and that not we must face up to the fact that “we have been living beyond our means”. Profligacy and waste “is the legacy our generation threatens to leave the next.” The current situation is “unsustainable”. Now is the time to “face the music” and stand up to the “most urgent issue facing Britain today”.

Cameron was, of course, talking about cuts to public spending. But wouldn’t it be nice if he used the same language, the same gravitas and urgency to talk about need to cut carbon emissions, in order to address the far more urgent, far more dangerous and far more unjust problem of climate change?

We’re often told that politicians can’t take drastic measures to tackle climate change because they are unpopular, or because it would be electoral suicide to talk about the need to make sacrifices. But this whole discussion of the deficit, and what George Osbourne has called the ‘painful’ cuts to come, shows that our political discourse can cope with talk of unpopular sacrifices. So why, if our Prime Minister can make a grave and serious speech about the deficit,  can’t he do the same with climate change? If he thinks people can cope with hearing that there will be painful cuts to public services, why does he think that they’ll baulk at the idea of painful cuts to their carbon budget?

At nef, we don’t believe that tackling climate change means sacrificing everything we hold dear. In fact, we’re adamant that the Great Transition to a sustainable economy could result in us living happier, more meaningful lives. But we’d be foolish to say that such a transition would be easy. It won’t be. It’ll be the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced. And yet no politician can be honest about it. None of them are talking as frankly about the need to cut climate emissions as they are about the need to cut spending. Something is seriously awry when we make a huge fuss over the deficit, while the climate on which our economic and social stability depends is getting ever nearer to meltdown.

Bookmark and Sharelindsay-mackie2Lindsay Mackie is a consultant at nef. She is leading nef’s post office campaign and works on Clone Town and Ghost Town Britain.

I’ve always been keen on scanning the skies for new forms of avian life. And as I twitch with other bird watchers, I’ve registered the dark and looming shape of the deficit hawk.

This creature  seems to be a bit picky about what it will devour. It swoops hungrily on some prey and whimsically leaves other, fleshy and well padded beasts well alone. It seems to be concentrating its attentions on our publicly owned pastures, leaving the private estates well alone.

Enough with the metaphor. What is happening is that the response to the financial crisis is being dictated by those, in Government and outside it, who believe that the words ‘bloated’ and ‘public sector’ belong together and that the crisis cannot be resolved without first cutting back – 20 % is being mooted – on our public sector. The deficit hawks are currently in control of the skies.

Since the banking crisis began nef has been clear that we cannot resolve our economic crisis without first reforming the banking system. We know that the banking system has decoupled over the past decade from the productive economy. That linkage has to be restored but with a banking system radically re-formed.

The Government seems to agree: Vince Cable said last week that ‘ we have a seriously dysfunctional banking system’.  And in case anyone forgets that our crisis came about through banking failure  these figures will remind them:

  • UK government support package for banks totalled £1.3 trillion
  • Combined losses of ten major international stock markets reached $9.5 trillion between the start of 2007 and 2009 , or over 10 per cent of global GDP

We now urgently need another linkage between the programme of public service cuts and the demands we must make of the banking system. These principally refer to availability of credit but also to the establishment of a Universal Banking Obligation which means that the banks offer a service to the millions of people who currently have either no bank account or who cannot get  even small amounts of credit for the kinds of economic activity that will help our economy to grow (money for training, for education, for  house maintenance, for energy saving).

Only radical reform of the UK banking and financial sector can deliver institutions capable of investment and lending that is economically and socially productive. And a concentration on cutting public spending without this reform will be disasterous for our country.

Image by The Original Ki via Flickr

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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.