How can we measure Scotland's well-being? New index from Oxfam.

May 3, 2012

     By Duncan Green     

Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme – constructing and testing a humankind workshopwellbeing index for Scotland. Guardian coverage here. Here’s how it works: Oxfam consulted 3,000 people across Scotland (focus groups, community workshops – see pic, street stalls, an online survey, and a YouGov poll) to establish what aspects of life make a difference to them. The consultation process produced an index based on a weighted set of elements (‘sub-domains’) that people reported as affecting the ability to live well in their communities (see table). People identified the following (in descending order of priority) as being the most important assets in their lives: • An affordable, decent and safe home and good physical and mental health • Living in a neighbourhood where you can enjoy going outside and having a clean and healthy environment • Having satisfying work to do (whether paid or unpaid); having good relationships with family and friends; feeling that you and those you care about are safe; access to green and wild spaces; and community spaces and play areas. Using official data, the Oxfam Humankind Index was then calculated for 2009-2010 and 2007-2008, with at least one surprising result: ‘Since 2007-2008, Scotland’s prosperity has increased by 1.2%.’ Eh? Things are getting better in the middle of a recession? The reason is that since people weighted issues like housing, health and safety higher than economic factors like job security and having enough money, even though the economic factors have slumped since the onset of the current economic crisis, improvements, particularly in perceptions of health and community spirit, more than made up for the deterioration. This also reinforces the discussion at the big well-being conference in South Korea a few years ago, where well-being experts said that well-being demonstrates much less volatility than some of the more conventional economic numbers. humankind indexThe index also explored the differences between the average numbers and those for some of Scotland’s most deprived areas and found that ‘Deprived communities come off worse on 12 of the 15 subdomains for which differences between the two communities were able to be measured. The major disparities are in terms of whether people are able to enjoy going outside and having a clean and healthy environment; access to green spaces and play areas; and safety. These three areas account for just over 40% of the difference between deprived communities and all of Scotland. People living in deprived communities are also less likely to feel they are part of a community, and overall the majority of the deficit thus arises from differences in the quality of life in the local area.’ The project highlighted some gaps in the official data (on relationships with family and friends, job and income security and human rights and respect), that the Scottish Government could usefully fill. The good news is that the project will improve with age, as updates of the survey start to build a picture of how Scotland’s wellbeing and the multidimensional inequality evolves over time, enabling a really interesting comparison with the traditional economic indicators. Last word to Gerry Hassan, one of Scotland’s most influential commentators, from his piece in The Scotsman: ‘We have just been given the beginnings of a debate that could start to shape an alternative Scotland, one where we consciously imagine and create our own collective future and idea of society. Maybe, many years from now, we might remember this week more for that, than for all the hullaballoo about the Murdochs, Trump and Rangers FC.’ And a really lovely 3 minute youtube video – reminds you what it’s all about. ]]>