A budget to increase wellbeing in the UK? #Budget2017

The purpose of our economic growth is to improve the quality of life and prosperity of people in the UK.  This budget has some potential wellbeing gains, but also misses some opportunities which we set out  yesterday. 

The Chancellor’s focus on opportunity through learning and training is backed by the research: 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. Unemployment has a bigger impact on our wellbeing than loss of earnings and it will be interesting to see what difference the support for returning to work makes to wellbeing of those out of the labour market in caring roles where evidence is currently missing. Likewise, the Living wage increase should see wellbeing impacts as the wellbeing impact of increased income is  greater for lower paid than better off, pound for pound.

What this budget does miss is mental health which has the biggest impact on our satisfaction with life – this is important enough that it deserves special mention.

Nancy Hey, Director, What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Work

Unemployment is always damaging to wellbeing. Men tend to suffer more from unemployment, however new evidence suggests women who are committed to their careers suffer more than men. Return to work is good for wellbeing but it has to be good work

Sara Connolly, Professor of Economics at the University of East Anglia. Work, Learning and Wellbeing Programme.

  • £5m for return to work schemes positive for wellbeing. Extended breaks in employment, especially when they are unplanned, have a significant and scarring effect on wellbeing.The support for working parents and return to work schemes could be particularly powerful for certain groups for whom wellbeing is lower. But there is no evidence yet about how the transition into and out of caring roles impacts wellbeing. Research in this area would fill an evidence gap.
  • Business rate changes help local employers. Support of small and medium local businesses through the Business Rates measures could have a positive impact on wellbeing – employees of smaller businesses tend to have higher life satisfaction than those from larger employers.
  • Self-employed are a diverse group.  Some evidence suggests that the self-employed in the UK have higher wellbeing, but one study suggest that the benefits of self-employment are limited to the better off [1] and those in temporary jobs have lower wellbeing. Flexible work is good, but lack of control in work is bad for wellbeing.

Tax changes for female self-employed might discourage women from re-entering or entering the workforce and lower wellbeing. The changes could also have negative wellbeing impacts for learners who are working self-employed to finance part time study.”

Kevin Daniels, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the University of East Anglia. Lead investigator of Work, Learning and Wellbeing Programme.

Learning and Training

  • The Department for Education will pilot different approaches to encouraging lifelong learning. 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.  The investment of £40m to pilot different approaches to test what works for different approaches to lifelong learning is a sign that better evidence is key to making better decisions for our quality of life.  
  • Changes to training has the potential to re-balance wellbeing gains for different groups. Currently, lower level and technical qualifications result in lower financial and wellbeing returns than hIgher education qualifications.

Will Vocational Education and Training shakeup convince employers that qualifications have value? If not could be bad for wellbeing of learners. Government investing in VET training will only be good news if young workers can find good quality jobs to put skills to use”

Olga Tregaskis, Professor of International Human Resource Management at the University of East Anglia. Work, Learning and Wellbeing Programme.

  • Education for wellbeing is missing. The most recent Good Childhood Report shows us that girls aged 10-15 are less happy than they used to be. Last year’s report showed us that England ranked 14 out of 15 selected countries for wellbeing at school. This matters for the current lives of these children but also for their future – self-control, perseverance, the capacity to delay gratification, and the ability to cope with shocks are strong predictors of adult wellbeing. A wellbeing budget would focus as much attention on building social and emotional skills as on educational attainment. Which will help with productivity in the long run – we know that increasing wellbeing in children improves exam results, future wellbeing and future earnings.

Community Wellbeing

  • Community assets matter. Local pubs, key hubs for community activities, will benefit from tax breaks, and it would be good if more social spaces – libraries, cafes, and other bumping spaces – could also benefit. Children and people from some demographic groups are less likely to access pubs. There was also no formal valuation of common assets – green spaces, shared community resources, heritage buildings – despite evidence that these are important for community wellbeing.
  • Volunteering and giving. There were no announcements on related issues that could help develop community wellbeing – measures, for example, to encourage volunteering and community groups.
  • Quality of relationships. Good partner relationships are second most important factor in our adult wellbeing, so £20m investment in measures to help women escape violent partners and rebuild their lives are welcome. These programmes speak to early years and the stability of positive parenting – protecting women is protecting children (a shocking 200 children are bereaved each year in the UK by men killing their mothers).  The quality of a parental relationship affects the wellbeing of their children and its violent conflict that is the most harmful.

The budget has missed the major opportunities to increase wellbeing: no large roll-out of preventions of mental illness amongst children, no large initiatives in mental health treatment, where mental health problems are a major cause of low wellbeing; no push for flatter and more trusting organisations and ways of delivering services; no strong push against inequality; no moves to push for more pedestrian zones, jobs near homes, cheaper housing, forced parental leave, or increased mandatory holidays, all of which are moves towards more contented lives that put more value on relations.

Paul Frijters, Professor of Economics at LSE and lead investigator of the Cross-Cutting Wellbeing Programme.

Health and Social Care

Policy that values what matters people prioritises dignity and respect.

  • Potential to improve work conditions in the sector. There are not two cultures in the workplace: how you treat staff is how patients will be treated. The quality of care has often come under scrutiny and many working in care homes are unskilled and hold few formal qualifications. The investment of an additional £2bn for social care packages in England over the next three years opens a window of opportunity if directed toward upskilling in this area.  and thus has a positive impact on those who are currently low skilled working in this area. Forthcoming Centre evidence show the wellbeing and productivity gains possible in this sector, through well designed training.
  • Dedicated mental health provision missing. The Budget did not set out any dedicated investment in addressing the increasing demand for interventions that improve mental health. Early years investment in mental health is key to ensuring wellbeing across the life course, so preventative measures and treatments should be supported.

The Chancellor’s announcement of an extra two billion pounds for adult social care is welcome, obviously. All serious commentators realise that there is a crisis in social care and that this puts huge pressures on the already struggling NHS as well as causing massive personal distress. And investment in social care is probably a very wise priority. We need to welcome this investment, but remember that social care, health care and, perhaps particularly, mental health care, are all crucial elements of central government support for wellbeing.

Peter Kinderman, President of the British Psychological Society, and lead investigator on the Community Wellbeing programme.

Overall economy

The OBR have upgraded their growth forecast from 1.4% to 2% for next year. The level of national income has surprisingly little effect on wellbeing, as long as it does not go down.

Most importantly, the government is not announcing that it will seriously start to experiment with ways to increase wellbeing at all levels of government: no major experiments in teaching, health, the organisation of the civil service, housing, policing, etc. So we are not preparing to learn what works and what we can thus roll out in the future

Paul Frijters,  Professor of Economics at LSE and lead investigator of the Cross-Cutting Wellbeing Programme.

REFERENCES

[1] Blanchflower and Oswald (1998) find a robust positive effect of self-employment using UK data. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (1998). What makes an Entrepreneur? Journal of Labor Economics, 16(1), 26–60.

Alesina et al. (2004) find that the positive effect of self-employment is limited to the rich.

Alesina, A., Di Tella, R., & MacCulloch, R. (2004). Inequality and happiness: Are Europeans and Americans different? Journal of Public Economics, 88, 2009–2042.

World Happiness Report 2016 summary findings

The fourth edition of the World Happiness Report has been published this week by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network with a 2016 special update.160311-whr-2016-happy-ppl-opt

The growing interest in the report reflects growth across the world in using subjective wellbeing and happiness as primary indicators of the quality of human development as many governments and organisations are using wellbeing research to develop policies for improving lives.

“Measuring self-reported happiness and achieving well-being should be on every nation’s agenda as they begin to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals,”

 Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University

The report is co-edited by Professor Richard Layard (who heads up our Cross Cutting evidence team).  The report uses ‘happiness’ and ‘subjective wellbeing’ interchangeably. It ranks 157 countries by their happiness levels:

160314-whr-2016-fig2.2-1024x512

This year, for the first time, the World Happiness Report also gives a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality in the distribution of wellbeing among countries and regions.

What’s important for high wellbeing?

Three quarters of the difference in wellbeing between the top 10 and bottom 10 countries and regions can be explained by:

  1. Social support so that you have friends and family to count on in times of trouble
  2. Freedom to choose what you do in life
  3. Generosity and how much people donate to charity
  4. Absence of corruption in business and government
  5. GDP
  6. Healthy life expectancy

These don’t explain everything, for example with this data we are not yet able to understand how much our wellbeing is impacted by having a sense of purpose and feeling what you do in life is worthwhile.  They did find that the experience of positive emotion matters more to our overall wellbeing, measured by life satisfaction, than the absence of negative emotions although both are important.

What supports national resilience? 

The report also looks at changes in wellbeing over time, looking at the impact of the recession by comparing data from 2005/7 and 2013/15.  The biggest drops in wellbeing are more than would be expected from changes to economic situation alone.

Resilience, that enables a positive response to a crisis and increases positive emotion, looks like it comes from having a caring and effective community through:

  • strength of social fabric
  • levels of trust
  • institutional quality
  • generosity
  • shared purpose

Wellbeing in the UKWHRpt 16

The World Happiness Reports give an understanding of wellbeing at a national level.  The UK is:

  • 23rd of 157 countries in the world happiness rankings 2013-15
  • 85th of 126 countries in our change in happiness from 2005-7 to 2013-15
  • 46th of 157 countries in inequalities of wellbeing in 2012-15

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is focused on understanding what governments, business, communities and individuals can do to improve wellbeing at a policy and practice level in the UK.

You can see similar information for the whole of the UK measured by the Office for National Statistics.

→New e-course on wellbeing in policy and practice in the UK