Conference Proceedings: Towards Wellbeing For All

Posted on Monday, 21 November 2022
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The success or failure of an economy is traditionally measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which calculates the value of all goods and services produced by a country or Gross National Product (GNP) which measure how much of that value remains in the country. However, neither of these measures take into account the impact on or the damage that may be caused to people or place in the production of those goods and services. They may also give a false impression of the strength or weakness of an economy. Because of the distorting effect large corporations can have on Ireland’s finances, a new measure was developed, GNI* which seeks to provide a more accurate measurement of what is really happening at the core of the economy. In Ireland also, we have a new measure introduced in Budget 2023, GGB*. Acknowledging the State’s reliance on corporation tax, this metric will be used to monitor the public finances while excluding any ‘excess’ receipts.

But what does any of this mean for the health and happiness of individuals? How do we measure the success or failure of a society? The response to that question that has emerged across the world over the last few decades is to measure the impacts of policy against the wellbeing of citizens. But what exactly does that mean and how is it best done?

The Programme for Government 2020 [1] commitment to the development of a well-being framework has been delivered on with the Second Report on Ireland’s Well-being Framework published in June 2022. As part of that commitment, a Well-being Information Hub was developed and maintained by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). This “reports on the Well-being of the nation and attempts to answer this essential question – how we are doing as a country, as communities and as individuals”. [2]

The information hub gathers data on: 

  • Subjective Wellbeing – rating overall life satisfaction, feelings of depression, happy with life.
  • Mental and Physical Health – Healthy life years, unmet medical needs, population with depression. 
  • Income and Wealth  Median household net wealth, difficulty making ends meet, household disposable income. 
  • Knowledge, Skills and Innovation – Reading and maths levels at 15, lifelong learning, research and development personnel.
  • Housing and Built Environment – New dwelling completions, domestic dwelling energy ratings, average distances to everyday services, at risk of poverty rate after rent and mortgage interest.
  • Environment, Climate and Biodiversity – Pollution and grime, clean water, greenhouse gas emissions, waste to landfill. y Safety and Security – murder rate per 100,000, persons killed or injured on roads, number who worry they could be a victim of crime.
  • Work and job quality – Labour underutilisation rate, employment rate, mean weekly earnings.
  • Time use – Long working hours in main job, number satisfied with use of time, carers providing at least 20 hours of care per week.
  • Connections, community and participation – population who feel lonely, population with at least 2 people they are close enough to count on if they had a serious problem. 
  • Civic engagement, trust and cultural expression – population who experienced discrimination in 2 years previous, satisfaction with how democracy works in Ireland, perceived social inclusion.

These are the things Ireland has chosen to measure and as the saying goes, what matters is measured and if it is not measured, it does not matter. Measurement also implies a further commitment to dealing with the findings.

So how are we doing? In a country that still is unable to provide secure affordable housing, timely access to healthcare, support children with extra educational needs and has almost 595,000 people living in poverty, we have a lot of work to do. The conference will hear from speakers bringing national and international perspectives on wellbeing initiatives and make suggestions for new initiatives or propose improvements to existing methods. Ultimately, as a nation, we want to be well, safe and fulfilled and we want to ensure that so are the generations to come.