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How can we measure national success? Five headline indicators to replace GDP

How can we measure national success? Five headline indicators to replace GDP

Secure, well-paid work. High levels of life satisfaction. Effective public services. A fair, prosperous economy. Most Britons share the same vision of national success – but why don’t our measures of progress?

An economy is only as strong as what it delivers. The UK public, when asked, is consistent and clear about what that should be: secure, well-paid work; high levels of personal wellbeing; effective public services that guarantee good health and education; low levels of economic inequality, and a healthy environment.

Good economic and social policy would aim to make these priorities a reality. But when it comes to assessing how our nation is performing, such outcomes are not sufficiently taken into account.

This report proposes five new headline indicators of national success for the UK. Our aim is to realign policy priorities with those of the public, building a stronger, more balanced economy.

Drawing from the latest international research on indicator design, and consultation with experts and organisations across the UK, we have identified the following five headline measures:

  1. Good jobs: everyone should be able to find secure, stable employment that pays at least enough to provide a decent standard of living.
  2. Wellbeing: improving people’s lives should be the ultimate aim of public policy, measured at headline level as average reported life satisfaction.
  3. Environment: our prosperity and that of future generations depends on a healthy environment. UK carbon emissions must not exceed the set limit if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.
  4. Fairness: high levels of inequality, evidenced by a growing gap between the incomes of the top and bottom 10% of households, have been proven to have corrosive effects on both society and economy.
  5. Health: good quality healthcare and public health provision, measured by a reduced percentage of deaths considered avoidable, is a pre-requisite for all other social and economic goals.

Such diverse policy goals already exist across individual government departments. But given the dominant role of the Treasury in British political life, its primary policy objective – increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – has become shorthand for national success.

Since the financial crisis GDP has returned to growth, but this single figure does not reflect the performance of the economy as a whole, nor does it reflect the full breadth of economic and social priorities held by the UK public.

This is an extract from the paper Five Headline Indicators of National Success from the New Economics Foundation.