What would a wellbeing budget 2017 look like?

Over 50 years of research has told us how we can improve wellbeing through Government policy. Will these feature in the budget?

Work and the Economy

  • Think creatively about incentivising ‘good jobs’

This budget needs to prioritise reducing unemployment and creating high quality jobs.

Previous business rate proposals meant that rates for pubs, shops, GP surgeries hospitals could be set for increases as high as 400 per cent. This creates a short-term danger that a business’ biggest overhead could be cut: employees.  Unemployment is one of the most important things the Government should care about in a wellbeing budget.

Becoming unemployed has among the most damaging effects on wellbeing and mental health, alongside health and relationships. The wellbeing impacts of unemployment go beyond the impacts of income.  If someone is unemployed for more than a year, their wellbeing will  permanently be lower – it increases once back in employment, but doesn’t increase back to previous levels. Where a parent has been unemployed in the past, their adolescent children will have lower wellbeing and self confidence, years later and after their parents are back in employment.

Being in a job is good for wellbeing and being in a ‘high quality’ job is even better. We don’t mean a certain skill level, type or industry. It’s about what makes a job worthwhile for us. Things like how secure it is, the social connections we have, autonomy and purpose, among other things.  A people-centred Budget needs to address the fact that  fewer than 3 in 10 (28%) people in the UK reported high satisfaction with their job.

The Budget needs to encourage high quality jobs.   For example, business rates could be lower for organisations taking action to create high quality jobs, or ensuring higher wellbeing for employees at work. This would have benefits for the wider economy as well. Organisations that strive to improve employee wellbeing tend to have better productivity, higher levels of innovation and creativity and lower costs associated with absenteeism, presenteeism and staff retention(1).

  • Improve commuting

We know that a longer commute is negative for wellbeing.  Importantly, we never adapt to a poor commute. As anyone who has to catch the 7.41 from Hove to Farringdon can tell you, it affects us daily. Research shows that merely switching from commuting by car to walking improves our wellbeing. We need a budget that promotes job creation nearer to residential areas, and make sure those jobs are open to local people.

  • Encourage lifelong learning and improve training system

Evidence shows that continuing to learn throughout life is not only useful for developing skills and improving job prospects; it can improve and maintain our mental wellbeing.  Learning throughout life is associated with greater satisfaction and optimism, and improved ability to get the most from life. People who carry on learning after childhood report higher wellbeing and a greater ability to cope with stress. They also report more feelings of self-esteem, hope and purpose whilst setting targets and hitting them can create positive feelings of achievement. Learning often involves interacting with other people and this can also increase our wellbeing by helping us build and strengthen social relationships.

A shake-up of the current training system has the potential to provide young people with a quality learning route. Research shows this is important for personal wellbeing, as well as productivity gains. Typically, lower level and technical qualifications result in lower financial and wellbeing returns than higher education qualifications. It’s argued this stems from the perception of technical qualifications by employers as poorer quality and lower value . Creating a qualification that has value to both employers and employees could yield significant benefits for personal wellbeing as well as productivity.

  • Provide adequate support for those at the end of their careers

Those who are involuntarily forced into retirement, without a financial safety net, experience the greatest drop in wellbeing.  A wellbeing budget would provide incentives for firms to support employees in planning for their retirement – this might include the option of reduced hours or other forms of “bridging’’ employment.

Health and social care

  • Improve work for those in the sector

There are not two cultures in the workplace: how you treat staff is how patients will be treated. Social care is a key priority for many local areas, but care work can be viewed as low paid, precarious and undesirable, making recruitment difficult. The quality of care has often come under scrutiny and many working in care homes are unskilled and hold few formal qualifications.

We know what works to improve conditions, increasing wellbeing as well as productivity in the health social care sector. A forthcoming Centre review of the published evidence will show that training in the workplace, combined with changes in job design, can improve the quality of the job, improving conditions for staff as well as  improving performance, reducing absenteeism and conflict.

  • Think across departments – prevention matters

Acute responses to crises have high costs. Prevention has a long pay-back. Those with higher wellbeing are less susceptible to illness and are more likely to recover faster. Even the emotional support in the first 3 years of a child’s life can hugely influence later outcomes.

We know that physical activity can prevent and improve a range of mental health conditions and music and singing can improve wellbeing, especially for older people. There are clear health and wellbeing benefits from a connection with the natural world, including national parks, local pockets of green space, canals, rivers, or the coast.

The budget would recognise the valuable role which social connections play. Countries where everyone has someone to rely on have significantly higher wellbeing compared to countries where no-one has someone to rely on- around 10% higher, even when other factors like health and income are accounted for. Individuals with higher loneliness have significantly lower wellbeing. In countries where everyone feels that most people can be trusted, the country tends to have around 20% higher average wellbeing compared to those where no-one answers positively to their levels of trust.

And what can Government or local authorities do? What works for social relations? An upcoming Centre review will lay out the existing evidence. We already know that community and housing design play an important role – those living in walkable, mixed use neighbourhoods are more likely to know their neighbours and trust others.

The wellbeing budget would promote cross-departmental cooperation, working together to support social care of the elderly and creating an environment which is sociable. Continuing the positive steps already taken by the Department of Health, the wellbeing budget would continue to recognise the importance of wellbeing and the role of culture, sport and ‘green’ interventions for preventing and improving diagnosed conditions.

Taxes and stability

  • Tax increases, tax cuts, spending… and stability

The main insight from current wellbeing research into taxation is that poor individuals get more wellbeing from an additional pound than rich people. Once we reach a certain income, increases in our income only increase our wellbeing by a small amount – studies have estimated that doubling our household income would increase life satisfaction by a little over 1% (2).

Because we compare ourselves to others, our wellbeing won’t increase if the income of all those around us increases at the same rate. The level of national income has surprisingly little effect on wellbeing, as long as it does not go down. Measures of wellbeing are more than twice as sensitive to negative economic growth as compared to positive growth. Economic stability is important.

Why should the Government care about the wellbeing budget?

Where people have lower wellbeing, the leaders are more likely to be voted out.

The wellbeing budget – what next?

These are just examples of some of the evidence of what influences our individual and community wellbeing. Beyond this, our national wellbeing rests upon how this adds up as a whole – now and going forwards. Based on the evidence, a Government would prioritise investments to improve national wellbeing, current and future. However, there is still a lot to learn. We need to test which approaches work best, in what format, to understand how wellbeing can be improved. Especially for those with the worst lived experiences. We don’t need to roll out new approaches before testing – we need to try new things in a way which lets us understand what works – and what works for wellbeing.

You may also like: How a spending review would look if the government wants a happier Britain 

(1)  Prof. Alex Edmans, London Business School,2015, BITC/Ipsos MORI 2010, The Wellness Imperative: World Economic Forum 2010.

(2) The regression coefficient on log income in a BCS life-satisfaction regression (controlling for other adult outcomes, childhood outcomes and family background) is 0.20
Doubling household equivalent income is predicted to raise life satisfaction by oneseventh of a point.

A thousand wellbeing flowers are blooming


Saamah Abdallah
, Senior Researcher & Programme Manager, NEF and part of the Community Wellbeing evidence team, shares his thoughts from the 5th OECD World Forum.


saamahMexico is a country of vivid colours, and its bright vibrant flowers are a welcome sight when you’ve come from autumnal England.  So it was a fitting country for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Fifth World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy, where, indeed it was clear that wellbeing initiatives around the world are starting to bloom.

The OECD’s World Forums have been central to the development of the wellbeing agenda.  The first one, in Palermo in 2004, was little more than an exploration of the idea that there are new things that we should be measuring to understand progress.  2007, the Istanbul Declaration was signed by the OECD, the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, the European Commission, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and the World Bank, demonstrating the desire of the signatories to move Beyond GDP.  At the last World Forum, in New Delhi in 2012, talk was still focussed on measurement, and how it should be done.  But now, in 2015, in Guadalajara in Mexico, data was flowing and the policy implications being considered.

Countries all around the world were starting to measure wellbeing in ways that one could not have imagined a few years ago. Turkey has carried out a survey reaching over 120,000 households so as to be able to map wellbeing across its 81 provinces. In several states across Australia, wellbeing is being assessed for every single child at school. In Ecuador, the 2008 constitution incorporates the concept of Buen Vivir (good living) as their model of development (in opposition to a focus on economic growth) and the statistics department there is busy trying to measure this objective. The tiny Pacific state of Vanuatu, that came top of the first Happy Planet Index in 2006, has started collecting wellbeing data. And in Mexico itself, as well as an impressive network of citizen-led local initiatives measuring wellbeing, the official statistics office published the results of a large scale survey which has allowed them to assess wellbeing across all the 31 states, and explore the relationship between subjective wellbeing and material conditions.

Presenters were beginning to link wellbeing evidence to clear policy implications. Not just academics and think tanks, but political actors as well. UK MP David Lammy talked about supporting active transport, and arts and culture education. Aristoteles Sandoval, the Governor of Jalisco, the state Guadalajara is part of, talked about the need to reduce inequality (as indeed did almost everyone at the event). Sangheon Lee, from the International Labour Organisation highlighted new evidence that job quality does not need to come at the cost of job quantity.

And mechanisms are beginning to be put in place to ensure new data is considered in policy decisions. In Israel, the Ministry for Environmental Protection, Central Bureau of Statistics and Economic Council are creating a structure of wellbeing indicators which government ministers will be held to account on. In Finland, the Prime Minister’s office is identifying 25-30 indicators on five key themes with the same purpose.

The What Works Centre, which is of course one of the UK’s mechanisms for getting wellbeing data used, was well represented at the conference.  Chair Dr. Paul Litchfield spoke on a plenary panel about behaviour insights (I also chaired the session). Lord Richard Layard, who leads the cross-cutting evidence programme, spoke at a session on the importance of subjective wellbeing for the sustainable development agenda.  And Lord Gus O’Donnell, Patron of the What Works Centre, spoke at a plenary session on how alternative indicators were already being used in policy.

Slowly but surely, wellbeing is getting into policy.  The UK is making important contributions to this global movement, but there’s a lot we can learn from elsewhere too.  The What Works Centre will be keeping an eye on all this to make sure we do know what works to improve wellbeing.

Community consultation – questionnaire and events

How can wellbeing evidence help you achieve your objectives? 

What evidence would be most useful for you and in what format?

Our Community evidence strand will focus on a range of evidence areas, including:

  • Definitions of community wellbeing
  • Local factors that determine both personal and community wellbeing
  • The role of social networks and participation in personal and community wellbeing
  • The positive impacts of community wellbeing on other outcomes
  • Impacts of community based interventions to improve wellbeing

As part of our stakeholder engagement process to decide what our priorities in these areas should be, please fill in this questionnaire   

It should only take you about 10 minutes to complete, but will be immensely valuable information for us.

→Please complete the questionnaire by 28th August it’s a perfect task for a summer’s afternoon!

The Community evidence programme is also hosting ten stakeholder engagement workshops to shape the scope of our research. The workshops will mostly take place in September in various cities across the UK.

These workshops will explore how wellbeing evidence can be useful in the day-to-day work across sectors including local government, the voluntary and community sector, public health, housing and the private sector.

We will be focusing on policy areas related to place and community, including planning, housing, built environment, social capital, participation, public health, green space, transport, and community development.

The issues that the community programme focusses on will be determined based on this stakeholder engagement, so these workshops represent an important early opportunity to influence the Centre’s work.

Please register your interest for one of these events by emailing the addresses below (timings TBC).

Feel free to forward this invitation to any colleagues who might be able to attend in your place if you are not able to make it.

  • Leeds – 10th September. Register
  • Durham – 10th September  Register
  • Glasgow (including both local and Scottish policy issues) – 17th September. Register
  • Liverpool – 18th September Register
  • Belfast – 14th September  Register
  • Exeter – 7th September Register
  • Cardiff – 8th September Register
  • Birmingham – 28th September. Register

In the meantime, if you have any questions about the events at please contact the Community team

Community Wellbeing: Creating Pro-Social Places

Our guest blog sets out ideas for creating Pro-Social places in a paper originally produced for the Urban Design Group Directory 2015-17

RhiannonCorcorranRhiannon Corcoran is a professor of psychology and Graham Marshall is an award winning urban designer and a visiting senior research fellow; both at the University of Liverpool Institute of Psychology, Health and Society. They co-direct the Prosocial Place Programme with the aim of understanding and addressing the pernicious impacts of low-resource urban environments on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities with the aim of developing an evidence-based approach to urban design. Professor Corcoran is part of the Centre’s team looking at community wellbeing.


To support the collective social wellbeing set out in the Marmot Review, Fair Society Healthy Lives (2010), we need to foster a culture that regards and manages places as essential infrastructure. We have entered a critical era where greater thought leadership in our place-making culture is essential.

Dubbed “Toxic Assets” by CABE, Britain’s poorly performing urban places and communities continue to absorb much of our GDP, where land, places and people are exploited and treated like commodities.

In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, Jarred Diamond discusses the dangers of continued exploitation and the outcomes for societies that could not change their behaviour patterns: certain extinction.

With expenditure outstripping income, we have entered a long period of economic depression with high levels of ‘welfare’ costs signifying a nation under stress. Whilst the government’s economic austerity measures may rebalance the budget on paper, their short-term nature does not address the fundamental health and wellbeing issues that impact individuals, communities and the wider stability of the nation.

The Marmot Review emphasises the impact of urban quality on matters of equity, health and wellbeing giving urban designers an important role to play, but not through the technocratic fixes that they are typically trained to deliver. So, where do we start when thinking about the relationship between place-making, health and wellbeing?

THE URBAN PENALTY

Probably the most fundamental principle is embodied in the Government’s “No Health Without Mental Health” policy. Social scientists have consistently found urban areas to have higher prevalence’s of both diagnosed mental health conditions and a lowered level of wellbeing known as “languishing”. Public health research identifies this failure as the ‘urban penalty’, or the ‘urbanicity effect’, arguing that it results from poor social integration, social isolation, discrimination and deprivation – things we intuitively grasp as urban designers.

However, if we explore these issues through the lens of Life History Theory developed by evolutionary psychologists, we can begin to see things a little differently and to understand better the adaptive nature of human behaviour in context. Research has found that where resources are stable, reliable and predictable, people can plan their futures, enabling greater resilience and the capacity to adapt in response to inevitable life stresses, to change and to cooperate with similarly future oriented people they encounter in their communities. It should be no surprise that public spending is lowest in places where people are prosperous, well-educated and healthy.

When we study low resource environments through this same lens, we find that people live their lives and forage in a different adaptive way. This can be difficult for design professionals to understand and, furthermore, the outcomes of this way of being are typically disapproved of by society. The insecurity of resources promotes an adaptive strategy, termed ‘future-discounting’ in those who live in these harsh environments. In other words, in these environments immediate gratification of wellbeing needs is an ingrained, sensible strategy to pursue.

In general people who live in harsh environments will tend to thrill seek, shun long term educational goals, have children younger, act impulsively etc. However, together, harsh environments and the behaviours they prime have significantly negative impacts on sustainable individual and community wellbeing. Harsh environments also tend to get harsher as people make only defensive, short-term investments in them. This includes the managerial actions that public authorities imposed upon these places.

And when we talk about resources we mean more than money – we refer to the whole resource of our human habitat and relationships. A gated, well healed estate is just as capable of promoting low levels of wellbeing as public housing can.

WHAT IS WELL-DESIGNED?

In short, Life History Theory shows how the qualities of an environment directly determine our life strategies and our wellbeing. In so doing, it emphasises the utmost importance of urban design, but when government policies demand places are ‘well designed’, what do they expect from this nebulous phrase? In 2012, Dr Steven Marshall published a paper interrogating urban design theory and found it “based on assumption and consensus, open to wide and personal interpretation by all players in the built environment and pseudo-scientific at best” – assuming built environment practitioners apply any principles at all.

The time to address the weaknesses in our urban design practices and prejudices is overdue. We need to widen our knowledge base and work with social scientists to understand our intrinsic human ecology and the predictability of its ‘pattern language’. Whilst many secure professionals can successfully ‘forage’ in the ecological niche that is the ‘built environment’ or ‘regeneration’ industry, we embrace higher concerns that will advance thought leadership in place-making.

We need to design, manage and maintain ‘psychologically benign’ environments that reduce feelings of ‘threat’ to optimise opportunities for people to interact and cooperate. This is prosociality; co-operative social behaviour towards a common goal that benefits other people or society as a whole, such as helping, sharing, donating, and volunteering. Prosocial communities are central to sustained wellbeing and themselves encourage future focussed perspectives in the individuals who live in them.

AN EXEMPLAR

The BBC documentary series The Secret History of Our Streets provides a good illustration of the issues we face today. Silo thinking, unaccountable planning (eg highways), starchitecture (remote), all create harsh environments that are barriers to our intrinsic preference for cooperation and interaction.

In the episode on Duke Street in Glasgow (2 of series 2), we can watch an unfolding story of a place that developed from nothing during the Industrial Revolution, suffered social policy failures and then was dismantled bit-by-bit by planning and design policy failures. The scenes near the end of the programme show a townscape that has been ‘un-placed’. An uplifting aspect of the programme is the positive response from the community against this threat, demonstrating the powerful force of prosociality where it prevails.

A WELL-DESIGN PLACE

It is important to note the fore-sighting that tells us that at least 80% of the buildings that we will inhabit in 2050 have already been built. Moreover, many of the new buildings erected between now and then will be constructed within existing fabrics and infrastructures, and so be quickly assimilated to become ‘existing’ too and subject to the same management regimes. We therefore need to:

  • Stop ‘UN-PLACING’ townscapes
  • Remove barriers to ‘PROSOCIALITY’ caused by short-sighted renewal and management programmes.
  • Embrace the social sciences to focus ‘CO-DESIGN’ leadership on urgently regenerating existing places within an ‘accountable people-focussed agenda’.
  • Create ‘OUTCOME’ oriented policies to deliver objective, evidence-based place-making principles that embed community wellbeing.
  • Together we might instigate a ‘WELL-DESIGN’ process for place making rather than an indefinable ‘well designed’ output.
  • Instead of being distracted by Utopian (‘no–place’) dreams on green fields, we need to pursue the‘Eutopian’ (well-place) dream that is achievable through inter-disciplinary thinking, knowledge mobilisation and sensitive management of our existing townscapes.

Creating Prosocial Places – Manifesto 06.15

Community Wellbeing evidence programme call out for engagement

Our recently appointed  Community Wellbeing evidence programme will bring together robust evidence of what works to create better policies and practices for communities and undertake a knowledge mobilisation function to get that evidence to those areas and organisations that can use it to best effect.

Spanning five universities, not for profit organisations and social enterprises, Community Wellbeing will focus on how the things that happen where we live determine our wellbeing. For example, how community wellbeing is affected by issues such as local social networks, having a say over what happens in our community, and local living conditions.

→Where you come in

Over the next three years, we will be bringing together evidence on what community-level factors determine wellbeing. The aim is to identify steps that government, both central and local, as well as community organisations, the private sector and others can take to improve wellbeing.

In the coming months we will be organising events and engaging with stakeholders in order to frame the scope of our research. We want to connect with a range of people both whose work could be supported by wellbeing evidence and whose work could create wellbeing evidence. We want to understand what kinds of questions stakeholders would like the evidence to help answer.

We are organising a series of workshops across the UK, aiming to build closer links between researchers and evidence-users. These workshops will be used to collaboratively shape the scope of our enquiry to ensure that we produce outputs which are usable, relevant and robust.

If you are interested in being involved in this collaborative process, please email with the subject line ‘opt in’ or click here.

Think Local, Act Personal – Building Community Capacity Empowering and Engaging Communities events

The Care Act makes explicit the need to promote wellbeing and prevention and the NHS Five Year Forward View also talks about the need to “harness the renewable energy in communities”.  There are plenty of examples of innovative practice in community capacity building such as befriending, homeshare and time credits, however practice is more fragmented revealing different measures of success, terminology and concepts.

Think Local Act Personal hosted a Building Community Capacity logo_think-local-act-personalLeaders Seminar which brought together key stakeholders from across the health, social care and public sectors to help drive forward a collaborative approach

Building Community Capacity Empowering and Engaging Communities

Following on from the Leaders Seminar, TLAP are running a series of regional workshops which will look at the policies and evidence base for community empowerment. The events are open to Health and Wellbeing Boards, NHS England Commissioners, NHS Providers of Community Services and Voluntary Sector Providers.

→Book a place on a Building Community Capacity regional event

Expert Teams and Board Members appointed for What Works Centre for Wellbeing

The Wha8-2754esrc-logot Works Centre for Wellbein2903577 What Works Banner Stand V0_2.inddg, together with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have announced the successful bids for four research programmes to understand what really works to improve the wellbeing of people in the UK.

Over the next three years, the What Works Centre for Wellbeing will enable policy-makers, local authorities,  employers and others to use evidence of wellbeing impact in decision making and to improve people’s lives, by translating academic evaluation of wellbeing measures into easy-to-use information about effectiveness, cost and applicability.

The successful consortia are led by world-renowned academics

Professor Richard LayardProfessor Kevin DanielsProfessor Peter KindermanProfessor Christina Victor

 

 

 

Overall, the research spans twelve universities, five civil society groups, and reaches internationally through the OECD. More detailed information on the teams and the work of the evidence programmes is here

The Centre and evidence programmes have been funded by a number of partner organisations.

 Cross-Cutting Capabilities

Professor Lord Richard Layard, LSE, leads the Cross-Cutting Capabilities programme, working in collaboration with

  • London School of Economics
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Institute for Education

They are partnering with

  • Action for Happiness
  • University of Oxford
  • How to Thrive

The team will assess and develop methods of understanding how policy and practice affect wellbeing. They will look at the effect of different factors on wellbeing, analyse the impact of wellbeing on other outcomes and develop a framework for cost-effectiveness analysis with wellbeing as the measure of benefit.  They will also conduct life course analysis, looking at the how important early life is to wellbeing in later years.

Work, Learning and Wellbeing

Professor Kevin Daniels, UEA, leads the Work, Learning and Wellbeing evidence programme, a collaboration between

  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Essex

The evidence programme is focused on protecting and enhancing the wellbeing of workers, adult learners and those seeking work.

Bringing Wellbeing to Community

Prof Peter Kinderman, University of Liverpool, leads the Community Wellbeing evidence programme. His team is a collaboration of five universities including

  • Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice at the University of Liverpool
  • Sheffield University
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Durham University

They are joined by five civil society organisations including

  • New Economics Foundation
  • Locality
  • Happy City
  • Centre for Local Economic Strategies
  • Social Life Ltd

The evidence programme will focus on how community wellbeing is affected by issues such as local social networks, having a say over what happens in our community, and local living conditions.

Culture, Sport and Wellbeing

Professor Christina Victor, Brunel University London, leads the Culture, Sport and Wellbeing evidence programme, a collaboration between

  • Brunel University London
  • University of Brighton
  • London School of Economics
  • University of Winchester

They will look at the wellbeing benefits of participation in different culture and sport practices for people in a wide range of circumstances.

Board appointments

PaulLitchfieldThe Centre has recently appointed its first Board of non-executive Directors. The Chair, Dr Litchfield, is joined by:

Gregor Henderson (National Lead for Wellbeing and Mental Health at Public Health England), and Phil Sooben (Director of Policy, Resources and Communications, ESRC) will join the board for an initial period as the Centre’s major partners in delivery.

Further recruitment for board members, including specifically from areas of local government and academia are still to come. Follow this website for the latest opportunities.