2 The relationship between the well-being
measures and the Sustainable Development Indicators |
11. The SDIs consultation document identified the
separate development of well-being measures as one of the main
reasons for streamlining the SDIs themselves, and for drawing
a distinction between a 'current' and an 'inter-generational'
view of well-being:
[The development of well-being measures] gives us
the chance to look afresh at the SDIs, casting them as indicators
of 'inter-generational well-being' which will complement and sit
alongside the national well-being measures under a banner of 'Measuring
Progress'. ... This approach is also advocated in the ['Sarkozy
Commission' report] which states that: 'The assessment of sustainability
is complementary to the question of current well-being or economic
12. A comparison of the SDIs and the Measuring National
Well-being measures shows that in some areas there is much overlap,
with measures addressing very similar matters. New Economics Foundation
noted that "of the 12 proposed headline SDIs, five are covered
by an identical or very similar measure in the proposed ONS National
Well-being domains and measures (economic prosperity, unemployment,
knowledge and skills, greenhouse gas emissions)".
13. The consultation document acknowledged that "the
indicator set proposed is not a 'balanced' set with equal numbers
of indicators covering the economic, society and environment domains".
There were 12 under 'Economy', 11 under 'Society' and 14 under
'Environment'. There was a smaller number of indicators under
the Society domain because "issues relating to society will
be strongly represented in National Well-being". Conversely
there were more Environmental indicators "because the environmental
pillar is most strongly inter-generational". "The inextricable
links between well-being and sustainable development may result
in some indicators sitting in both the National Well-being and
SDI sets." Nigel
[SDIs] are intended to provide a high-level summary
of progress across the three pillars of sustainable development:
the economic, the environmental and the social, with a particular
focus on factors affecting long-term and intergenerational progress.
... [Well-being measures] are focused primarily on current well-being
and are significantly weighted towards social measures of well-being,
so things such as relationship, health, community and so on. However,
I think there is recognition in the well-being set that the economy
and the environment have the potential to impact on current well-being.
For that reason, there are a small number of environmental indicators
in the well-being set, and some economic ones as well. Also, I
think there is recognition that concern about the future can also
impact on current well-being, so there are some forward looking
measures as well. Inevitably there is a degree of overlap ...
14. There was no plan, Mr Atkinson told us, for merging
the two initiatives at least in the short term:
... the national well-being framework was not developed
for the purpose of monitoring sustainable development, and the
sustainable development framework does not capture the level of
detail that reflects what citizens have been saying about what
affects their well-being. It would be practically difficultI
doubt it could be doneto bring the two together and continue
to serve the two purposes for which they have been defined. For
example, if the Sustainable Development framework were to incorporate
the well-being measures, there is a risk it would skew that framework
too far to the social, perhaps too far to the present day relative
to the future. It would also make one of our key objectives in
this latest version more difficult, which is to try and streamline
the indicator set.
Glenn Everett of ONS, in a similar vein, told us:
... it may be sensible to keep them apart at times.
To me it is too early to say one way or the other. I would say
reviewing it is something we can do in a couple of years' time,
to see how it does properly overlap.
The use of the measures
15. Our witnesses were divided on how important it
was to have a combined indicator framework . The SDIs consultation
document identified two main uses for the Indicators:
The intention is that the proposed SDIs will provide,
for Ministers across Government, Parliament and the public, high
level transparent measures of whether the UK is developing on
a sustainable path. The SDIs should also support our evidence
base for policy development across Government.
16. The current SDIs had been "widely used";
in education, business, the third-sector and local authorities.
In central government, our Defra witnesses told us, the focus
was on policy making:
We see the value of [the SDIs] being potentially
to encourage the right sort of discussion, at the stage at which
polices are being developed, about what sort of impacts one might
want to be mindful of when designing policy ... .
17. New Economics Foundation considered that it might
be conceptually coherent to distinguish between current and inter-generational
views of well-being and sustainability, but:
it is not meaningful in policy terms to separate
the assessment of these two issues: they must be treated as a
whole. This is implied by the proposed ONS Well-being measures
which include, for example, greenhouse gas emissions. A high volume
of greenhouse gas could, in many ways, be seen as an indicator
of high current well-being (as a proxy for high consumption).
But this, of course, is not its intended interpretation in the
ONS measures. Responses to the ONS's National Debate on Measuring
National Well-being revealed that people believe that as an integral
part of the attempt to assess the current state of national progress,
we must assess whether our current activities threaten our future
well-being. Similarly, policy which was guided only by a concern
for the sustainable use of resourcesto continue the example,
by aiming to reduce to an absolute minimum greenhouse gas emissions,
with no regard for the current well-being impactsis not
a realistic policy option. Hence we believe that setting up two
parallel sets of government indicators covering a very similar
range of issues is likely to be damaging and counterproductive
to the aim of ensuring that the indicators successfully guide
18. WWF wanted better integration of the two frameworks.
While the ONS work depicts current well-being and the SDIs represent
inter-generational well-being, that distinction would be lost
if the results from the two frameworks were not presented together,
"so that trade-offs and synergies can be assessed; at present
there is a risk that current well-being will be prioritised ...".
Others too wanted a joined together single framework.
RSPB said that they were "concerned that these arrangements
will lead to confusion amongst policy-makers and the wider public
in particular, as the difference between current well-being and
long term inter-generational well-being is unclear".
19. There were however practical challenges for using
the SDIs for policy-making. In response to our May 2011 report
on embedding sustainable development, Defra told us:
It is unlikely that [the Sustainable Development
Indicators] alone will be sufficient to identify how policies
should be changed and whether policies are truly being successful.
We believe that beneath the headline and supporting set of indicators,
we will need to work with departments to identify other more detailed
supporting statistical measures that would help to breakdown,
evaluate and steer policy development. Defra would then collate
these measures and periodically publish reviews on particular
And in our current inquiry, our Government witnesses
determining a hard, quantitative, causal relationship,
between an individual policy or even a potential group of policies
on a particular indicator, is going to be quite a challenge.
20. David Halpern, from the Behavioural Insights
Team, described the ambitions for using the National Well-being
measures to influence policies and behaviours. With development,
such measures might be used to steer policy making where traditional
cost-benefit analysis typically overlooked well-being.
We intend to examine the role of the Measuring National Well-being
indicators in Government policy-making in a follow on inquiry,
including whether the initiative might produce well-being metrics
which could be compared with GDP in order to help assess whether
growth was consistent with sustainable development.
21. The separate
development of the National Well-being and SDIs could obscure
a coherent and full view of well-being that covers both a current
and future generation perspective. Some types of measures are
included in both sets of indicators, which is likely to confuse
the public and also potentially policy-makers.
22. As soon
as the National Well-being and SDI measures reach a stable state
of development, the ONS and Defra should consider how a single
framework could be produced. We recommend that this should be
done as the UN Statistical Commission's work on well-being (paragraph
2) and the post-Rio draft Sustainable Development Goals (paragraph
47) take shape.
19 Informal Consultation on Sustainable Development
Indicators, op cit. Back
Ev w7 Back
Informal Consultation on Sustainable Development Indicators,
op cit. Back
Ev w7 Back
Ev w4 [WWF] Back
Ev w9 and 20 [Keep Britain Tidy and RSPB] Back
Ev w20 Back
Environmental Audit Committee, Embedding sustainable development:
The Government's response, HC 877,op cit, p20 Back
Q 9 Back
Qq 50-52 Back
See Q 53 Back