LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron set out plans on Thursday to measure the national mood and help to build a more family-friendly Britain, a potentially fraught endeavour at a time of sharp spending cuts.
Cameron said the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which produces data on economic growth, unemployment and crime, would start measuring the quality of life from next April, arguing that current indicators do not show overall wellbeing.
The ONS will ask people how satisfied they are with aspects of their life such as their relationships, locality and work, with the aim of producing national and regional wellbeing measures by the summer of 2012.
It will first consult on what questions to ask and how much weight should be given to each factor.
Economists have previously expressed scepticism over whether such a gauge would be taken seriously.
But statisticians said Britain was leading the way in attempting to record subjective measures of wellbeing with the same rigour as objective data such as household incomes.
“I would say the UK is driving the agenda in this area,” said Martine Durrand, director of statistics at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The new gauge will be launched as public spending cuts of 81 billion pounds over the next four years start to bite. The government is making the cuts to tackle a record budget deficit.
Cameron said he remained focussed on maintaining Britain’s recovery from deep recession, but he said the government had to focus on quality of life as well as economic expansion.
“The contention is that just as we can create the climate for business to thrive — by cutting taxes, slashing red tape and so on — so we can create a climate in this country that is more family-friendly and more conducive to the good life,” he said.
Cameron said he wanted the findings of the wellbeing surveys to drive government policy. “It could throw up things that might challenge politicians’ views about equality or taxation and that is all for the good.”
He quoted with approval former U.S. senator Robert Kennedy’s “simple and profound” criticism of gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic performance.
“‘(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.’”
Britain is not alone in pursuing wellbeing statistics. Last year, President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, a former White House adviser and World Bank chief economist, to find new ways to measure economic progress taking into account social wellbeing.
Additional reporting by Keith Weir; editing by David Stamp