Environmental Audit - Minutes of EvidenceHC 59

House of COMMONS



Environmental Audit Committee


Wednesday 17 July 2013

Professor Jan Bebbington, Glenn Everett,
Joe Grice and Juliet Michaelson

Evidence heard in Public Questions 61 - 103



1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 17 July 2013

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Neil Carmichael

Martin Caton

Zac Goldsmith

Mark Lazarowicz

Dr Matthew Offord

Dr Alan Whitehead

Simon Wright


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Jan Bebbington, Professor of Accounting and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews, Glenn Everett, Programme Director, Measuring National Well-being Programme, Office for National Statistics, Joe Grice, Chief Economist, Office for National Statistics, and Juliet Michaelson, Senior Researcher and Programme Co-ordinator, Centre for Well-being, New Economics Foundation, gave evidence.

Q61 Chair: Welcome to our panel-as it seems-this afternoon, which is part of our inquiry into well-being. We have four different witnesses this afternoon, so we will try to give each of you an opportunity to come in, but we are looking to finish proceedings by 4 o’clock at the very latest, and there is quite a bit of ground to cover.

In your experience, what priority do you think the UK Government currently attaches to this whole well-being agenda? Perhaps, Professor Bebbington, to start the ball rolling, you could start us off on this.

Professor Bebbington: I am not necessarily best placed to answer that. My understanding, and perhaps one of the reasons why I am here, is that devolution is creating the conditions in the UK for a whole variety of experimentations on well-being, waste and all sorts of things. My focus, and the evidence that I can bring to you, is much more on providing an outline of some Scottish-based initiatives, which might be below the radar of a UK parliamentary view, looking at well-being-both measuring it and also working towards it in policy terms.

Our national statistics office works very closely with the UK Office for National Statistics to make sure that information is common, but there are also specific information sets that we generate within a Scottish political context.

Q62 Chair: We have started off with the situation in Scotland. What is the priority in the UK, or in the different organisations that you are all dealing with? How does the Government see all of this? Is this agenda a priority?

Joe Grice: That is a big, general question. We find that there is a lot of contact, a lot of activity and a lot of enthusiasm in a number of areas. That varies a little bit across the piece, but my colleague, Glenn Everett, who leads the Measuring National Well-being Programme, and the rest of us in ONS get involved with policy making at various levels, ranging from key areas such as the successor to the millennium development goals in international development to issues related to the health service, healthy transport and so on.

Overall, the well-being agenda plays closely into The Green Book, the authoritative guidance on appraisal and evaluation in government. In many ways, by providing further evidence on well-being, we are making that agenda easier to follow and deeper.

Q63 Chair: Does anybody wish to add anything to that?

Juliet Michaelson: From our point of view at the New Economics Foundation, we would give a two-part answer to your question. First, we celebrate all the developments that have happened, particularly since 2010 and the launch of the Measuring National Well-being Programme, but we also recognise the previous Government’s interest prior to that. At the beginning of 2009, we published a report, "National Accounts of Well-being", which suggested it would be a radical proposal for Government to measure regularly the experienced well-being of its citizens. Here we are today with the second year’s data about to come out on that. The written submission provided by Government to your inquiry is chock-full of examples of how this evidence and the measures are starting to be used.

To come to the second part of my answer, there is a "but" because we feel there is still a sense that the agenda is seen as a nice to do, added extra kind of thing. In the very first point in the Government’s submission, it says that the Government’s focus is on "supporting economic recovery" and delivering "fiscal deficit reduction"-but it is also looking at well-being as a "long term" goal. For us, in order for the well-being agenda and the evidence to be taken seriously and to make an overarching contribution to how policy is made across the board and across government activity, there should be no separation between well-being on one side and those key economic goals on the other. For us, the well-being evidence is a key means of trying to achieve headline goals like a flourishing economy. That sets the scene for how we approach the whole thing.

Q64 Chair: Do you think that the issue is more to do with policies that are directed towards the long term and the short term, and there being a disconnect between short-term action and long-term policy goals?

Juliet Michaelson: That is one way of looking at it, in that well-being is espoused as a long-term goal, but in terms of the pressing issues, such as "How do we get our economy back on track?", we have not seen a lot of evidence that the well-being evidence base has been used as a means to do that, even though it has lots to say, for example, on macro-economic policy on employment, security of employment and so on. It is seen as something we will get to once we have sorted out the real, pressing issues.

Q65 Chair: You would say, though, that the importance and priorities should be given to well-being in the short term as well as in the long term.

Juliet Michaelson: Yes, absolutely, and in two ways. In one way, very few politicians or policy makers would disagree that their ultimate aim in everything they do is to improve people’s well-being. On the other hand, the well-being evidence is a means of trying to improve the quality of public decisions. That is where we see the gap-the evidence is not used as much as it could be.

Q66 Mark Lazarowicz: Can I follow up on that? This is perhaps a question for Professor Bebbington. Ms Michaelson has said that there is not much evidence of well-being being considered specifically as a factor in policy at UK level. Have we seen that happening in a practical sense in the Scottish example that you have been talking about? I am an MP from Scotland, as you will hopefully know, and although, obviously, most of my work is here, I live in Scotland and I take part in the debates. As a member of the general public and the policy community, I am not particularly aware of well-being leading to a distinguishing feature of Scottish policy debate-they are the same kinds of debates, on the same kinds of issues as those that influence debates here. Is it making a real difference in Scotland in the way that it is fed into Parliament and in terms of governmental involvement in the Scottish Parliament?

Professor Bebbington: The mechanisms are there, but they are not fully realised, which echoes some of Juliet’s points. I would make a distinction: it is not so much short term and long term, in that it depends what you set as your central purpose for a Government, how you measure and communicate that, the scrutiny function around that, how that affects decision making and, lastly, the extent to which real people are engaged within it.

The Scottish Government’s purpose is to create "a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish". That has been very much influenced by the Sarkozy commission type of language around flourishing, flourishing frameworks and "capacities for flourishing". It then goes on to refer to achieving that "through increasing sustainable economic growth", but there is a massive set of contradictions in those terms. When it was originally set up in 2007, that central Government purpose of "sustainable" meant being socially just, environmentally fair and those sorts of things, but they are not particularly in the forefront of people’s minds at the moment.

Sitting behind that purpose, there is a national performance framework. This is something that the Government and civil society are working on in partnership but, at the moment, it does not have much traction outside quite narrow policy circles. It is an outcomes-based set of purposes, purpose targets and indicators, which are supposed to guide you. Taken together, they can create much more of a well-being framework, albeit that economic factors are core to it, but they are not central and the only thing within it.

Some of the mechanisms head down quite a different path. The objective has not been fully realised-very good evidence of that being the fact that you might not necessarily have come across the national performance framework and had much of a sense of how that is operating within Scotland. It is a Government framework, and the public sector in Scotland is basically aligned behind it through single outcome agreements and other processes.

If you wish, I can say a little bit more about things like the purpose targets, how they hang together and their history. We are trying to learn from the experience of the US state of Virginia, which has used something called the Virginia model for some years. In some ways, it makes the relationship between the economics and well-being more formal, rather than saying "We’ll do the economics now. Then we’ll sort out the social and environmental later". It is trying to do it simultaneously. I would not wish to claim that it is doing it very well, but I do not think that anyone is.

Q67 Chair: We might come on to some of that later. For now, do you think there is any public appetite for this? Do the public get it? Would they wish it to be a priority as far as Government are concerned?

Professor Bebbington: We certainly have some evidence of a much more engaged bottom-up process, which was developed by Oxfam in Scotland in partnership, in particular, with the New Economics Foundation. They did a whole series of workshops and they had stalls at fairs and in shopping centres, with focus groups, community groups and whatnot. In total, we were in touch with about 3,000 people to ask them, "What do you think well-being looks like in your life?" The purpose of doing that was to generate a ground-up centre-things that people prioritise, which do not map exactly on to the top-down governmental ones, but which show some commonalities.

The other part of that work, which I can elaborate if there is an appetite for it, is that there was a real focus on asking the least well-off in Scottish society how they conceived of well-being and what they thought it was about. This is then married up to statistical information that is collected as a matter of course, and there is an index provided, which is tracked each year, in particular looking at the gap between well-being, as people experience it, between the best-off and the worst-off.

That consultation was immensely lively. Oxfam would certainly say that there is an appetite for it, particularly among people who do not necessarily have as much as some others.

Q68 Chair: There is a difference, is there not, between focus groups and something that comes from the public, if you like from grass roots upwards? In terms of the measurements, do Mr Grice or Mr Everett have any sense of how much of a priority the public gives to this?

Joe Grice: When we first started the Measuring National Well-being Programme, which was a little over two and a half years ago, we started off with not a campaign but certainly a programme to assess what it was that mattered to people. That was one of the busiest and most popular consultations that we had ever done. We got 34,000 responses. That is a small part of the population, but it is massive for the kind of exercise that we conduct. It was very much in terms of "What matters to you".

We got all those responses. We were invited to several hundred events all round the country, ranging from local groups to larger national ones. The response that we got was that people cared about the things you would expect them to care about, but nevertheless, it was a very strong message. They cared about material well-being and material security, other forms of security, freedom from crime, friends and family and a sense of belonging. They cared about their jobs and the quality of their jobs, as Ms Michaelson was indicating earlier. There was an almost semi-spiritual element-"Why are we all here?" and, again, concern about health. Those were the clear messages-five or six clear things that people very strongly felt. That helped us quite a lot in terms of the way we devised the programme going forward, to make sure that we were likely to pick up those things that people told us mattered to them.

Somewhere there, there is at least a pointer to part of the question that you asking, Chairman, if I may say so. People probably do not care about this as an abstract concept. If you were to ask, "Do you care about well-being?" people will, on the whole, respond, "What’s that?" or, "Of course we do, but what are you going on about?"

If, on the other hand, it means things that matter to them, like the quality of jobs, job satisfaction, their state of health and those kinds of issues, they clearly do care about them, and they are responsive to things, policies and other events that will promote those things that they care about.

Q69 Chair: If it is something that ought to be important, how would you suggest that that should best be taken forward within Government? It has been suggested to us that having a chief social scientist, as opposed to a chief Government scientist, might be the way to ensure that all these different debates and ideas about policy get structured. Would you agree with the proposal of a chief social scientist, or is there a better, different way of doing it?

Joe Grice: The perception that we have from our standpoint on this is that well-being considerations, in the sort of evidence that we try to measure and produce, are used through the way that Government produces its policies-not necessarily the major, headline policies, but certainly in the day-to-day policy making across departments and across Government.

The Green Book, The Magenta Book, the way that Governments make policy-there is tremendous demand for information to make that kind of decision making even more real and more relevant than the framework allows. That is partly why there is demand on us to produce more evidence to be used for that purpose. I am not sure that it is not being used. I think the way forward is probably to ensure that the evidence is available and is used in the ways that we already use for making policy and evaluating it.

Q70 Chair: You could be sure that it would be used, if that evidence was there. You would not need a person to make sure that it was being used.

Joe Grice: We have no feeling that we are producing this material and our colleagues in other departments and policy makers are saying, "Gosh, go away. We are busy doing real things". On the contrary, we have a lot of demand and a lot of attention on the work that we are doing-and some impatience.

Q71 Chair: One of the first things that the current Government did was to get rid of the Sustainable Development Commission. You could argue that that was the place where some of the measurement of these different aspects was done. Do you think that decision has had any visible effect on the way that the policy has been taken forward at the moment? Has that had an effect at all?

Joe Grice: We have found that one of the most important areas of connection has been in the context of sustainability. We do very close work with DEFRA and the Natural Capital Committee. I know you have taken evidence from Professor Helm. We think such connection is an important way forward, and we think that there is a role for us to play in giving them the tools and the material to enable the framework to be taken forward. I am not at all pessimistic about that aspect of this work.

Q72 Zac Goldsmith: I have a question for Juliet Michaelson. The New Economics Foundation has in the past advocated the creation of a headline measure of well-being. Can you explain why you think that is important and what it would achieve?

Juliet Michaelson: Yes, we do think that this is important, ultimately because, for the well-being evidence to have a deep and wide-ranging impact on the way that policy is made, it has to become more than a technocratic exercise. While you could devise a well-being impact assessment tool, for example, which might well be an important thing to do as part of a suite of measures, ultimately it will stay in the back room and is likely to remain a kind of fine-tuning or adjustment-stage piece of work.

For policy to be devised, right from the inception of ideas, from the discussion of, "How do we address these really large-scale problems that we have issues with in society?" we need political interest and buy-in to the agenda. Ultimately, we do not think you get that without public interest as well. So in the cycle between public interest and ministerial interest and thus setting the agenda for the civil service more broadly, we think that a headline measure of well-being would be a very effective tool.

What we mean by that, to be clear, is something that ultimately comes down to a single number and that we think is based on the subjective measures of well-being, of the type that the ONS are now collecting on their largest survey, the annual population survey, which reflect people’s experiences.

The advantage of that is, first, that a single number cuts through the vast noise that we see generated by the vast amount of social statistics and measures that are produced every week by a whole range of individuals across government and civil society. There is growing evidence of that. In work that the Carnegie Trust and IPPR did recently, they pointed to the example of the Canadian index of well-being, which is reduced to a composite headline number, and they pointed to that as a key feature of why it has had such success in attracting policy attention.

Q73 Zac Goldsmith: Is that the strongest example, the Canadian one?

Juliet Michaelson: The example that Professor Bebbington mentioned, the Oxfam humankind index, in Scotland, has done something similar, again with a headline number. I would also mention the OECD’s better life index. Although it has a foot in two camps in some ways, because it allows users to attach their own weights to different domains, ultimately it produces a headline number. I was talking to the BBC recently about their latest results. There are a number of examples where that works.

Q74 Zac Goldsmith: How well known is the Canadian index in Canada?

Juliet Michaelson: My understanding from the work that Carnegie and IPPR have done, where that was one of their main case studies, is that it really is pretty well known. One of the advantages it has is that they are able to back-cast it over time. They have about 15 years’ data and they can compare it to other headline measures, for example GDP, and point to different patterns in the two measures. There is a real story about change over time, which is another crucial thing about these sorts of measures.

What is really important is to be clear about what we mean by well-being. It can be a slippery term-it is used in all sorts of different ways. By having a clear headline measure that is based on one type of thing, these measures of experienced well-being, makes it very clear what we mean. It sends a signal to the policy-making community as a whole. When we say, "Use the well-being evidence", we mean the whole research field based on the now really quite established research field, and this is what you should be aiming to bring into your decision making.

Q75 Zac Goldsmith: In a minute, a colleague is going to be looking at how you reconcile potentially conflicting bits of information to create that headline figure, so I will not go into that now, but it would be interesting to know how that headline figure, in your view, would interact with GDP. How would the two figures work together? What would be the process?

Juliet Michaelson: In terms of how they are produced, or of what the results would be?

Q76 Zac Goldsmith: We are all accustomed to seeing GDP held up in a particular manner as an indicator of whether or not we are moving in the right direction economically. How do you imagine this headline figure would actually be used by Government?

Juliet Michaelson: The idea would be for it to be used in as similar a way as possible. One of the criticisms that is often made of headline subjective well-being measures is that they are fairly slow to move. Actually, if they were reported in terms of the sorts of percentage changes that we see on GDP figures, you may well get something comparable. We currently find it pretty newsworthy if there is a 1% change in the GDP figure. A change in an average well-being measure from 7.3 to 7.4 on a 10-point scale would be of a similar scale.

We have regular reporting of GDP. It is not something that happens once a year and then everyone forgets about it. We come back to it. It is another element that would help make this stick. The other thing about GDP is that it is attached to an extremely strong narrative about why it is important for policy making. That is the other element that a headline measure would need to be effective. It needs to be adopted alongside a narrative of why this is important and not just referred to once in a while. It should become an embedded narrative in discussions of what is important in policy.

Q77 Zac Goldsmith: I ask Glenn Everett, is the development of this kind of indicator part of the programme that you run in the ONS?

Glenn Everett: Not at this moment. We looked long and hard at the possibility of developing a single composite index along the lines of the Canadians. I have had discussions with the Canadian academic who produces it, so I understand that they use eight domains by eight indicators, multiply them out and divide by 64, which effectively gives them all equal weight. He said privately that he uses that very much as a hook to get the media interested. They are not part of Statistics Canada-he does it from a university. The very element he uses it for is to get people to see what is beneath it. "Let’s start looking at the health area", or the housing, or the labour market. He basically says-this is what we propose as well-that a single index, particularly on personal or subjective well-being, can mask things beneath it.

Q78 Zac Goldsmith: If I am straying into the next sector, please stop me, but, with GDP, regardless of its failings in terms of really capturing what is going on in a country, it is nevertheless quite hard to manipulate the figure. It is based on a mathematical equation, which is not that easy to manipulate.

The kind of indicator that you are describing, in order to be effective, would have to adapt, and the changing values might change the weight you would attach to different indicators and so on. It is necessarily more subjective than the GDP measurement. If that is the case, and if it has to adapt over time, that would have an impact on the measurement and on the outcome of that final figure, and it would surely be quite hard to know whether or not the country is moving in the right direction from the point of view of well-being.

Glenn Everett: Can I indicate a different way? Rather than just a single composite index, what we have is a very complex, multidimensional construct. For UK purposes, we are using some 40 headline indicators. Some countries use 64, and some use 50. There is no perfect answer to this. The national accounts come from a very strict set of clear, internationally agreed frameworks. That framework for well-being, as I consider it, is still being developed internationally, although I would put the UK as one of the leaders in developing that framework.

We have to try to describe it-I totally accept that the presentation and engagement of the single index is nice, but we are looking at other ways to present this information that are equally engaging, that can get the public involved and that can get the politicians and others to understand it. One of our proposals arises from academic advice we have had about measuring change in the indicators and how to present it. We could give each of the indicators a traffic light, whether it is red as in getting worse, amber as in no change and green as in getting better. Overall, you could see perhaps 20 indicators getting better, 10 staying the same and 10 getting worse. At a glance, you could see that, overall, we are improving. It would also allow-because you could see the red ones-where you should focus attention.

Q79 Zac Goldsmith: From what you have just said, does that mean that you are less inclined towards a single-figure indicator and more inclined towards a spectrum, which can inform politics rather than terrifying politicians?

Glenn Everett: Yes, but I accept that it is clearly a matter of the presentation and engagement. We are looking at ways where we can improve that by using a set of indicators to show the changes in them and that also allows you to see where politicians should perhaps be looking.

Professor Bebbington: I do not necessarily think that a moving indicator base is so much of a problem, because people’s preferences, knowledge and what they value change over time. With the national performance framework, when it was developed-it was developed in back rooms, rather than with people-it was agreed that it is not the right index, the right set of things, but that it was going to be held constant for a six or seven-year period, partly to get the trend analysis but partly also just to hold something constant and then have fairly substantial refreshes. When you are doing those sorts of things, what you had 15 years ago would be quite different from now, but that is the nature of the beast.

It also relates to the weighting of things. One of the things that I quite like about the Oxfam index is that it asked people what they value. It is quite interesting, in that poorer people value a different range of things from people who are more well off, which would fit within the remit of what they are interested in. From a Scottish Government perspective, it was quite important, as it would be for a UK Government as well, when considering the ability to support all of your community. You might, however, need different ways to offer such support.

There is also the measure of limits. This is where I am not a neutral observer about the winding up of the Sustainable Development Commission, because I was the Scottish commissioner-so take this how you like. I note that without some of the input from the Sustainable Development Commission, the well-being debate is more concentrated on people-but people live within an ecological context. If the ecological context is overstressed, it will eventually feed back into people, but a sense of flourishing within limits does not come through as strongly as before. That would be the only distinguishing feature, but I would be slightly more relaxed about it not being set in stone for a 50-year period.

Q80 Zac Goldsmith: If Governments are ever going to redefine criteria for reaching numbers that determine whether or not they have done a good or bad job, they are always going to choose the flattering definition. That is the danger with redefining these things over time.

The other issue, surely, is that you need to have a fairly static model-if we decided now to remove arts and drama and sports from the curriculum altogether, it would probably be 15 or 20 years before we really knew what impact that had on society and on the people who grew up and became adults and joined the work force. You want to have as steady an indicator as possible, and you want to remove the ability of politicians to tweak it in flattering ways. That is difficult, because of the subject that we are talking about.

Professor Bebbington: Yes. However, the state of Virginia has been trying this experiment for a bit longer. They are moving towards putting the core of that indicator set into legislation, so that it cannot change from one period to the next without quite a bit of scrutiny and conversation about it, so it cannot just be flipped on and off for window-dressing. That is partly because of the nature of their political cycles.

The Scottish Government is looking at that as a possibility, with the cross-party group. It will, of course, have strengths and weaknesses, but even if you perhaps hold 80% of it constant through an agreement, as in, "We keep that in", you have some way of preventing manipulation, but I would have thought that manipulation is invariable as well.

Q81 Mark Lazarowicz: That is related to my question, to go back to what Ms Michaelson said earlier, and perhaps some of the others want to comment. On the Canadian index, I suppose the real test is, has its existence impacted on policy? Have things been done differently because of the existence of the index or not? With GDP, Governments try and do things. It does not work, but they try and do things because they want to have a different outcome with the GDP figures. Can you point, in broad terms, to something that has happened differently or changed because of the existence of the single index in Canada?

Juliet Michaelson: I am not an expert on the Canadian context so I can’t, but I very much agree that that is part of what people need to see in order to get over some of the scepticism that we have seen.

In answer to an earlier question, there is public appetite for this stuff. The BBC did a poll a few years ago, where over 80% of people agreed that the Government should aim towards a measure of the greatest happiness, rather than the greatest wealth. We have also seen a large amount of media and public scepticism about things that are branded as a happiness index. Part of the problem is that people do not see the links to policy levers. They do not see that this is something that is legitimately in the Government’s gift to do anything about.

We can certainly point to the sorts of things that the evidence suggests would make a difference. For example, in analysing the first year’s ONS data of the subjective well-being measures, we found that people who are on temporary employment contracts had lower well-being, controlling for other factors, than people on permanent employment contracts. That is a finding that suggests that incentivising secure employment may well be something that a Government interested in promoting well-being ought to do. That is a concrete labour market-type of policy that, if it became part of the narrative that I referred to earlier, might start embedding the thought in people’s minds that this is not just something that sits over there or that is fluffy or that is something to be sceptical about, but is something that gets to the heart of a Government’s agenda.

Q82 Chair: At the moment, there is not really that understanding of this whole policy area, is there? It is something that is not directly related, because of experience and the way in which it is discussed.

Juliet Michaelson: Yes.

Q83 Chair: It is very difficult to get traction on.

Joe Grice: That, I think, is partly why we are slightly sceptical about the idea of having a single index. I rather doubt if the number of 7.3 on a happiness scale of one to 10 moved to 7.4 that would be a big event, whereas we do feel-and I very much agree about the narrative-that, if we concentrate on what is really going on, what is happening in those areas that people tell us they really care about and, what is more, we do not just say, "Here is our number", but we actually produce the narrative and the understanding of what is going on beyond that, that is the best way of beginning this process of people saying, "Yes, this does matter to us. We can see how this relates to things that Government and public policy can influence".

Q84 Chair: How would you have a single measurement and a single score rating? Take any policy: for example, High Speed 2-or any policy, really. How would you start to compare what the advantages would be? Presumably, different parts of the country would have different benefits or disbenefits as a result of that policy. How do you get that condensed into one measurement to enable a policy decision to be taken in terms of strategic direction?

Joe Grice: That is a very good illustration. It is very difficult to say, "Here is a single number that tells you whether HS2 is a good idea or not". That is completely regardless of the technical difficulties that there might be in constructing the single number. Just as a presentational device, it would cover more issues and make matters more difficult for people to penetrate than if we go a little bit below the surface and say, "This is what’s really driving matters". We have an increase in people being worried about health, mental health, their jobs or whatever it is. If we aim to get to that level of information, people can start to see what the linkage is between what they care about and how this framework might be used to produce good public policy. Once you get down to the single number, some people say, "This is happiness? What on earth are you on about?" That seems to move almost in the wrong direction.

Juliet Michaelson: I absolutely agree that, to be effective, you have to get down to that level below. In some ways, it is helpful to see the sorts of things that we are advocating as a way of opening up questions. What is really important about the well-being evidence base is that it reveals what are the strongest drivers of people’s well-being. Some of the things that come out of the literature come up to a certain level: secure employment and strong relationships with family and friends. Once you have identified that strong set of key drivers, you can then start asking a whole set of questions about something like HS2. What is its likely effect on people’s incomes? That might be the question where, at the moment, we tend to get stuck.

I note that there is still no consensus about whether it will ultimately have a good or bad effect on the single number of GDP growth. That is still a contentious issue. However, you can also start asking those questions about its effects on employment and relationships. Some of those questions you may answer through standard economic analysis, but what bringing in the well-being framework does is to open up a broader range of questions to be answered, which you would then want to start addressing through a variety of means, using well-being data but also using a lot of standard techniques as well.

Professor Bebbington: Can I reinforce that with an example? We have both a dashboard and a single indicator within the Scottish context. The Oxfam report produces an annual single indicator, which gets a lot of traction in the public domain, the media and conversations. If, however, you were to ask, "How has the Government done?" we would use the national performance framework, which has a much broader dashboard in the scrutiny process and, likewise, in decision-making processes.

In some ways, the Carnegie report, "Shifting the Dial", which has lots of international examples as well as UK-based examples, argued for horses for courses, so that engagement and ability have a conversation. The single indicator may be an opening point of a conversation that then drills down, but if you are going to do something, a single indicator is quite hard-"Have you done a good job?" is a difficult thing to answer with that.

Q85 Dr Offord: I am sure that many people would argue that their idea or feeling of well-being would be increased if they paid less income tax, for example. The concomitant effect of that would be that there would be less money for public services delivery, so someone else could equally argue that they are not as well off. How do you trade that balance in the headline indicator for that kind of scenario? What I am asking is, what are the components of the well-being indicator, and who would be the person or organisation that decides what would be included?

Professor Bebbington: Other people will have to answer for the UK measure. For the Oxfam measure, they asked people, and perhaps it is a quirk of the folk they asked or how they asked it, but a lot of people were quite happy to pay income tax, because it creates a set of public services that everyone benefits from. In that respect, a broader conversation about what the deal is is probably quite important. If you seek from some expert what ought to be in there, I am sure that such experts help, and I should probably say that, as a university professor, but people are pretty reliable estimates of their own well-being in many instances. It is taking people’s views about the quality of their life and how they make sense of it quite seriously as well. It is a mix of both, which is not particularly black and white, but it is perhaps realistic in this context.

Q86 Dr Offord: You would certainly need quite a wide political consensus for any kind of idea of well-being. In many ways, that could make it almost policy neutral-that you could not achieve a great deal.

Is it possible that you could achieve that political neutrality so that, on the one hand, any idea of well-being would not be considered pro or anti-austerity, for example?

Glenn Everett: That is about the basic framework in many respects. Talking about austerity and single measures, we are very much promoting the multidimensional aspect of all the well-being measures. Part of where it came from was very much the acceptance that GDP did not cover everything. We have tried to allow policy makers a much broader lens to look at areas. My aim in the future will be very much to get people to think wider on various policies. If you are focusing on transport policy or health policy, you should also think about the consequences a bit more widely in other areas-for example, the impact it might have on the labour market. In some respects, I would hope it would encourage Departments to start to work together in developing better policies.

Juliet Michaelson: In terms of that question of neutrality, that goes to the heart of why we advocate a headline measure based on subjective measures of experience, which ultimately ask people questions like, "How do you feel your life is going overall?" Professor Paul Dolan of the LSE has described this as a way of finding out about people’s lives without drawing their attention to any particular aspects of it while you are asking them-so that you get the ability to do that overall summing up. He draws a parallel with asking someone how they would feel about their new car after they had just spent £20,000 on it. You would probably get a different answer than if you ask them while they are sitting in a traffic jam. That is the importance of the neutrality of the question itself.

Yes, there are still decisions to be made. The ONS ran a process in deciding on their four measures of subjective well-being, where they consulted a variety of experts. Ultimately, it probably is a scientific decision, to some extent: what is the best way of framing a question that gets to that sense? There is a wealth of evidence in the literature that helps you answer that question.

Those measures allow you to stand back and read off the data what seems to be important. When you look across the answers of thousands of people in one go, you can start addressing questions like your example of the amount of tax you pay and the effects on income distribution. There is a lot of empirical evidence. This has been one of the cornerstones of the well-being research field, looking exactly at the relationship between experienced well-being and income. What that evidence also allows you to do-the great thing about these surveys is that they do not just ask about income; they ask about a range of factors in people’s lives-is to look at the relative importance of all sorts of different factors.

One of the key messages that I am here to put across today is that this is a really useful and precious resource to help you make empirically based decisions about these things. Sometimes in the past, we have had to rely on intuitions or different political persuasions. Well-being evidence is not about doing away with the need for political decision making, but it does offer an empirical basis to start making some of the difficult trade-offs that are the business of politics, ultimately.

Joe Grice: If we think of a lot of policy making as being appraising all the costs and all the benefits, with the objective, obviously, of minimising the costs and maximising the benefits, we have always been quite good at financial costs. The Green Book is 10 years old now-even the present version-but it is all written in terms of well-being language, which is mentioned quite explicitly throughout. As Ms Michaelson was saying, we were not necessarily very good at measuring some of those benefits and some of the disbenefits-the non-financial costs. We would see it as part of our agenda to help that process of making it easier to quantify and evaluate these more difficult but real benefits and real disbenefits than has hitherto been possible.

Going back to an earlier point, that, for me, is one of the most powerful ways in which this agenda will affect the way that public policy is made over time.

Q87 Dr Offord: Professor Bebbington, you have mentioned the Oxfam humankind index, which has been improving over the last couple of years. Do you think it is possible to work out what the reasons for it improving have been?

Professor Bebbington: At the moment it is flat-lining, to be fair. They just have two years’ worth of data, so it is new, and you cannot get a good time series analysis on it. Over time, the Canadian example is a better one, and you can probably dig in and do better with that than with what the Oxfam index can do presently.

One of the big values that I can see of the Oxfam one is, partly because of some of the purpose targets of the Government, which are about solidarity and cohesion, making sure that well-being is distributed across the whole of Scotland, not just in the central belt but in the more rural areas as well, and that we start equalising income and attainment between the poorest and the rich. The Oxfam index has that purpose completely at the core of it, partly because it is Oxfam that has produced it. Its aim is to see on what particular measures the information from the least well-off-it measures that as the bottom 15% on the Scottish index of multiple deprivation-moves differently from the mainstream.

At the moment, it is not so much of a trend analysis that it is most useful for although, in due course, it might become so. The useful thing at the moment is the extent to which there is a huge amount of commonality between those two groups about what matters, but they move in quite different ways. For example, for some of the poorer people, it is quality of housing, quality of the local environment and connectedness that really drive their well-being, whereas those are things that people on better incomes might take for granted. In that respect, it points towards policy areas or more policy interventions that might have differential effects. As yet, alas, it is a bit too early to have a long-term framework.

Q88 Dr Offord: I want to clarify this for myself: what you are saying is that, in the Oxfam case, or indeed in the Canadian model, it is possible to identify what is changing that index.

Professor Bebbington: Yes, and one of the clever things about the way in which Oxfam put it together is that they are not going out to get their own data to populate it, but they are hooking back into the national statistics databases and looking for the right, closest proxy. Obviously, if it is weak, it is not so strong, but, if it is strong, that is really helpful. Often, these are the same figures that are underlying more conventional policy making that does not necessarily explicitly have a well-being badge on it. Anything that you might create in this area needs to bed that down into the information systems that are already there and are fit for purpose.

Glenn Everett: Can I reinforce a point about some of this? We are talking about averages and single numbers. I stress the importance of distributions, particularly the use of distributions in policy. Hopefully, what should come of this is the ability to look at the distributions, usually at the top or bottom end, to inform policy-to allow better targeting of scarce resources. It is that distribution to allow us to look at the miserable minorities, as it is sometimes called, to help that targeting to get the information beneath that. It is not the 7.4 or 7.3-but the ability to look at that bottom decile to see where they are, what their other characteristics are and what we can do to help them.

Q89 Dr Offord: My final question is particularly for Professor Bebbington. Have you done any work to see what changes in well-being Scottish independence might introduce?

Professor Bebbington: Depending on who you believe, we are all going to be so happy, you will not even know yourself.

The pity with the public debate at the moment, in both the newspapers and the main media, is that it seems to be focusing on a 0.001% change in GDP, as opposed to broader well-being things. We could well infuse that debate with well-being as a stronger measure.

Q90 Peter Aldous: How effectively do you feel the civil service use the information and the data that are currently available to them to formulate policy?

Glenn Everett: At the moment, we are still looking at plans and some examples. The examples will start to grow. I have a couple of examples in front of me in what I think is quite a detailed annex to the submission from the Cabinet Office to this Committee, which detailed all the plans going across.

The key now is to embed it and keep it going along these lines. As I see it, it is an additional tool for policy makers. They now have broader, detailed evidence to base their information on. The civil service ourselves, even in our staff surveys, have asked these questions, now across Government, to help set staff engagement, look at HR policies and see how that can be affected. We have used some of the subjective well-being questions before and post to see their effectiveness-some of the post has not happened yet in some of these policies.

Overall, I see it being used across a range of Departments, from Health, Transport and Education to BIS, to inform their policies and to make better policies.

Joe Grice: That is right. Some Departments have taken advantage of the new data sources more quickly than others. Nevertheless, we see a general movement towards their use.

I have just finished 18 months acting as the temporary chief economist at the Department for Transport, while the permanent chief economist was on maternity leave. I have to say that, in transport, this kind of evidence is crucial to a whole range of issues, whether we were concerned with road design, HS2, which was mentioned earlier, or cycling. These are the kinds of issues that the appraisal and evaluation need to take into account. Unless you have the detailed information, it is more difficult to do that. In that sense, it is this provision of the information, as all of us around the table have mentioned in one form or another, which is making the difference. That is happening across a broad range. There are some areas in particular where there is a real focus. One good example would be the work that DFID have been doing on the successor to the millennium development goals at worldwide level, where this is clearly a very relevant circumstance.

Earlier, we mentioned the work of the Natural Capital Committee and DEFRA on some issues of sustainability, where the information that they need is very much the information that Glenn and his team and others are developing. There are some real connections here. I do not think, even if the headline numbers have not caught fire, that that means that we should be pessimistic about the overall agenda.

Q91 Peter Aldous: Just taking that a little bit further, some contributors to our inquiry have suggested that the civil service lack the training to effectively use data that have been derived from social sciences. Was that borne out at all in your work at the DFT?

Joe Grice: No, not at all. The DFT, as with a number of other Departments, would pride themselves on how much they value the underpinning to policy making that comes from proper appraisal, proper assessment of costs and proper assessment of benefits. To that extent, the obstacle is not policy makers in that Department or others saying, "Gosh, we are just not interested in this. Go away and stop worrying us". Their frustration is that they want the information to make that a real agenda.

That is why I am very optimistic about this agenda. It is not a question of us or other people with an interest in this area going round and drumming up business; it is a question of us responding to a clear demand from public policy makers to have this kind of information.

Glenn Everett: We and the Cabinet Office have worked together to do some awareness training and seminars, working with policy makers across all Departments. We have held seminars covering over 500 policy makers. There is a social impacts task force led from BIS that is leading the way across the analytic professions across government. I was surprised to see some of those comments.

Q92 Peter Aldous: So, basically, the training that is necessary, from what you say, is on-going at the moment.

Glenn Everett: We are all going through a learning exercise with some of this. I expect that we have recognised that as an issue and are putting things in place to make sure that these skills are there for the future, to understand what the evidence is producing to aid policy makers.

Q93 Peter Aldous: There is a concern that some measures of well-being might not be sufficiently flexible to take account of local choices and local priorities. Is that something that you have come across, and do you perhaps feel that there might be a role for local government?

Glenn Everett: It is recognised with us that local authorities in particular are keen-some more than others-to look at the well-being agenda. Some are much more active. Islington is one that I can name off the top of my head that is quite active. Others are looking towards some of this evidence to help them in their own planning and policies.

October will probably be when our first set of detailed local area information covering the subjective well-being data appears. We feel that will be a start to help them and give them that evidence base. We already have a survey that covers 160,000-plus respondents. That is a very large-scale survey, which allows us to disaggregate by different ethnicity and age, as well as by local area. The first detailed set will probably be produced in October this year.

Professor Bebbington: We have slightly more experience of that with the national performance framework, if we take that as not an exact proxy but the same sort of thing as what we have been talking about. The Scottish Government has entered into an arm’s-length arrangement with its local authorities, through something called the concordat, so the local authorities produce what they call a single outcome agreement, which they sign off with Government. That is shaped through the same mechanism as the national performance framework. You do not have to do everything on everything, but if you are not doing something on a key indicator, you explain why it is not relevant for your particular context and add things that might be relevant for your context. In particular, a rural-urban split might end up with quite different pictures.

At the same time, from the local authority level, community planning partnerships have a relationship with that process. If the world was running perfectly, it would cascade. It does not cascade perfectly, of course, but there is a series of connecting points where the conversation with, in our case, the national performance framework-in this context, the well-being framework as the core of it-could plausibly lead to that, making sure that it fits the circumstances, particularly if you are geographically dispersed, with really different conditions that you are facing. It is possible. They are in about the third or fourth round of those processes of that cascade and the conversation back and forth. Then, the agreement is a basis for accountability from local to Scottish Government.

Glenn Everett: Except, there are limitations to a survey, even though a national survey of 160,000-plus is quite large. In addition to that, we make available, if people want to run a very local survey, the set of questions and the advice to replicate it, so that they can compare and contrast. We make it all publicly available and readily available, and we provide that advice. If the local information that we provide is not detailed enough-we have worked with housing associations, for example, and if they want a very specific thing, here are the questions that I can ask them, and I can see how they are performing in their very local area compared with other areas of the country.

Juliet Michaelson: In our work with the Local Government Association and a range of local authorities on this agenda, we have found that local authorities really value having a common set of measures, where they are able to benchmark themselves against national performance. As Glenn Everett is saying, however, they will often also adapt things to their local context. The useful thing about having a set of common measures is that it is a starting point but, in different local contexts, there is still a lot of scope for people, firstly, to define what it is that the well-being agenda means to them locally, which is something that, in our work with the LGA, we have highlighted as being very important and also to measure appropriately.

Q94 Chair: We are talking about measurement and we are talking about the difference between local policy and national policy. Take, for example, air quality. The Government is currently consulting about whether or not to change the way in which air quality is measured. It is consulting on whether or not local authorities have a role in that measurement. If you do not have this kind of basic measurement at a local level, how do you come up with policies that are going to look at the whole, wider aspects of issues affecting health, mental health and physical health-pollution from air that does not meet the air quality standards? Without this kind of measurement, how do you get some kind of meaningful equality across the whole of the country?

Joe Grice: You are talking to the Office for National Statistics, so you are preaching to the converted on the importance of measurement. We are rather keen on it, on the whole.

As Glenn has said, we have national surveys, which give us national information. Some of that, we hope, will be of local value. Where it is not sufficient for local purposes, we make available the technology, or at least the basics, for people to supplement that.

There is a question on top of that, which is perhaps what you are raising, as to whether there should be a kind of required national framework. That is probably not for us as an office to take a view on-that is really an issue about whether this kind of uniform measurement system across localities would be a useful underpinning for policy. We can certainly do what we can, and we can certainly do our best to facilitate that, but it is obviously not for us to say, "You must do this". That is for other people to take a view about.

Q95 Chair: There may be European requirements that need to be met. How would you go about ensuring that those are being met without that basic measurement?

Professor Bebbington: There might be two things going on here. It perhaps speaks to your earlier point about a chief social scientist. In air quality terms, there would be an array of physical measures, which are pretty hard-wired, and there is a protocol by which you can figure out what is happening in a local street or whatever. What you do about it, what the local preferences are and how you might get to a better environment standard are less scientifically determined, because it depends on where you are, on traffic flows and on those sorts of things. This is a good example of where social science and natural science are almost running on slightly different ways of figuring out where to get to. At that stage, to say there is only one way in which you are going to sort out local air quality may well be unhelpful, but a requirement to measure it and sort it out is not unhelpful, but the ways to get there could be quite diverse. If devolution has taught us anything, it is that encouraging some of that diversity might allow best practice to flourish, to come to the fore and be shared. I am a social scientist, so saying that there is only one way to get people and groups of people to achieve things I find quite implausible.

Q96 Dr Whitehead: When we started this inquiry, we took evidence from Professor Dieter Helm, who is chair of the Natural Capital Committee, as has been mentioned. Do you think that the NCC’s work on valuation techniques, including natural capital in the national accounts, could point to a route that could be followed on social and human capital?

Joe Grice: We think this is a very natural agenda to take forward. It is clearly important. We have had detailed and long discussions with Professor Helm and his colleagues, which have been very helpful and very productive. For the most part, we see eye to eye. We have adopted a strategy of a longish-term approach. We are trying to get to having so-called green national accounts by about 2020. That is our longish-term "doing it proper" approach, if you like. We have combined that with a so-called top-down approach, where we take the existing available information. To the extent that there are significant defects in that information, we put right some of those defects so that we get something that is workable in a quicker timeframe. Those are our tactics-a kind of quick and dirty approach to give us working material relatively quickly, coupled with a doing-it-to-best-practice approach, which will take us a period of years, perhaps six or seven years.

Overall, for well-being, the tools that I think Professor Helm and his colleagues are advocating are very much ones that we think are the right ones, and which also figured very prominently in the Stiglitz review back in 2009. The idea that using integrated accounts with stocks and flows, so that you know what the stock of human capital is, for example, but you see the inflow and the creation of new capital, and the decay of old capital: that seems to us to be a sensible way to look at matters. You can think about physical capital in those terms, you can think about human capital and you can think about natural capital and so on.

The only area where I would put a little bit of a gloss on what Dieter said in his evidence is that he probably underestimates how much the national accounts are already based on these kinds of stock flow relationships and balance sheets. There is always a danger with national accounts that people concentrate only on gross domestic product, GDP, whereas the majority of the national accounts are actually about balance sheets and flows in and out. They are not necessarily of the highest quality at the moment, which is where we would want to develop, but it means that we have a very natural framework to take this agenda forward.

Juliet Michaelson: That is a really important distinction about the difference between information that exists already and information that tends to be focused on, which is why I refer back to my earlier point about the importance of that information that is highlighted because it has important public and political interest in it. While there could be important things to be done on human and social capital, we have a couple of concerns about investing too much weight on those as concepts for driving the policy-making process forward. The capitals approach is ultimately a fairly technical and jargon-heavy way of looking at things, in contrast to this idea of well-being, which, while meeting with some scepticism, certainly attracts attention and has intuitive ways of being talked about.

In terms of bringing about wholesale change to the way in which policy making is done, we would advocate putting more emphasis on the concept of well-being, of which human and social capital are key parts. Our other concern is to make sure that the importance and non-fungibility of natural capital are protected, and not to get to a situation where there seems to be a sense created of the kind of substitutability of different types of capitals, where we know that, given fixed planetary limits, natural capital has a different and special status that needs to be protected in policy making.

Q97 Dr Whitehead: Making that transition from natural capital to social capital and well-being, how do you easily escape from the problem that a number of academics who have looked at social capital have come up against, which is that you can indeed have, say, a very substantial inflow of quality social capital into a community that appears to exhibit all the measurable circumstances of a community with rich social capital-Robert Putnam had this particular problem in what he was doing-but it may be that all that is based on the fact that the motivation for the whole thing is that that particular community is united and agreed on hating another community just down the road, or it is united and agreed on the place of women in that particular community, and the women in that community also agree on their place in that community? You then have a problem of dealing with what looks like an objective role of social capital, coupled with a subjective judgment on the status of that social capital. Putnam tried to resolve it by having outward-looking and inward-looking social capital. I wonder if you have better views on that than perhaps he did.

Joe Grice: It is clearly an issue. It is relatively well documented that, quite often, groups that are in conflict have individually very cohesive structures-belonging to one gang rather than another gang is a way of feeling a sense of belonging. Simply producing the measures and the information, which is what we see a large part of our role as being, is only part of the story. Simply looking at whatever numbers and statistics are produced and taking that as the mechanical answer is not enough. You then have to look beneath what the numbers show, interpret that and say, "This is a really well-based increase in social cohesion and is something that we should encourage", or, "This is two gangs in a strong culture, that is not a good thing, and that is not what we wish to encourage". Anything that we do, we would certainly not want to be seen as a mechanical tool. It is a tool, but it requires proper interpretation and analysis, which is a proper part of public debate and of public policy making, for that matter.

Q98 Dr Whitehead: Do you think that the emphasis on well-being gets round that difficulty more than other ways of doing it, or is it equally subject to the subjectiveness of the final evaluation of what the measurements are?

Juliet Michaelson: In that particular difficulty, it seems to be a case of needing measures that are fit for purpose. If you simply define and measure social capital in terms of the kind of bonding social capital-the "in group"-and then direct your policies towards improving those measures, you may well get to the situation you are describing, where you are encouraging the formation of gangs. If you ensure that your definition and measures also include the bridging social capital, the outward-looking one-the cohesion between people from different groups and backgrounds-at least in the ideal scenario, you are encouraging the policy development process, which aims to encourage good links in that case and not just in the other. In a way, it is a good example of how you need to ensure that measures are fit for purpose and that they do not bring about perverse policy effects because they have been defined too narrowly.

Q99 Dr Whitehead: But you still have the problem of introducing subjective elements to a possible objective judgment.

Juliet Michaelson: It is interesting. Strong relationships-this is one of the strongest findings from the well-being research literature-are an absolute key driver of what ultimately leads to people reporting their experience of well-being as high. You can measure relationships in objective and subjective ways. You can simply count the number of close friends that people have, and that is a valid method that academics use-it provides useful information. You can also ask people about their experiences and whether they feel that they have someone they can rely on at a time of crisis. Do they feel that they have supportive relationships?

I come from the school of thinking that both types of measurement can well be valid. Because they are helping you look at different aspects of an overall question, why not have both types of measure if you are trying to understand something like the quality of relationships in a local area?

Q100 Dr Whitehead: You mentioned the NCC work being set against the notion of planetary boundaries for the environment. Taking account of what I have just suggested, do you think it is possible to establish similar sorts of tipping limits as far as social and human capital are concerned, which policy makers might need to consider and assess as a background for what is happening elsewhere-widespread rioting or a breakdown of basic communications in society? I refer to tipping points such as that.

Juliet Michaelson: You could, but I wonder how useful they would be. We would all acknowledge that those are situations that we do not want to get to. In the case of social and human capital, the policy agenda there is about promoting them as far as possible. How positively can we raise these measures? While you could focus on the minimum standard or minimum limits end of things, I hope that, for the time being, we are some way away from that, at least in this country. It also seems that there just is not as clear a basis on which to draw such limits as with natural capital.

Professor Bebbington: The best analogy that I can think of, which happens more in the corporate field, is that a lot of organisations are worried about their reputation, and they even employ people they call reputation risk managers. When interrogated in a technical sense, however, they actually do not know what their reputation is, and they do not know how big the capital is, if you like, but they know when they have lost it. Part of some of the social capital is much harder to model in the same sort of way. It will be inertial. A buffer will help you. Anything that builds the capacity to have social capital is probably helpful. However, I do not think that it can be easily modelled in the same sort of way. I am pretty sure you can spot it after the event, but before the event it is so much harder.

Q101 Dr Whitehead: The NCC has dealt with various elements of natural capital as being separate, rather than within a single framework. The suggestion of what is being said is that a number of these issues on social capital and human capital need to be put into one linked framework, possibly then considered within the problem of how you then judge how that framework works. Is that something that you would envisage as being a way forward for this process?

Joe Grice: We see a common framework as being possible and probably desirable, but what we do not foresee-this may be what you are getting at-is that, having produced that common framework or comprehensive set of information, that then gives you all the answers. All that it does is to give you a better basis for asking some of those kinds of questions that you have been putting, but at least you are putting those questions and having that debate on the basis of some firm information about what seems to be going on. If you have some information, for example, about whether the remaining resources in woodland are going down or up or are about the same, that is a rather better basis, I would have thought, for having those discussions about, "Are we reaching a tipping point?" "Are we about to reach a crisis?" or "Is this perfectly okay?" than if we do not have that information. We would see this kind of tool and the kind of tool that we have been talking about with the NCC as being an information source. However, it does not give all the answers; it just gives a better basis for having some of these debates and discussions that I think you are pointing to.

Q102 Dr Whitehead: If you have more of a framework, how might that enable you to start to judge various things such as the relationship, say, between apparent agitation and quiescence, where agitation may be a positive social capital developer on the basis of voice in a society, and quiescence may be quiescence because people are happy with what is happening, or it may be quiescence on the basis that people are profoundly dissatisfied with what is happening but have become apathetic about it. On that sort of exit, voice and loyalty type of analysis, how might that work within a framework?

Joe Grice: It seems to me that the framework will simply tell you something about what the state of social capital is now or what the state of natural capital is now, or whatever it is. There would then be questions of the kind you raise: is our social capital doing what we are doing because we have excessive quiescence or excessive agitation? You then get into that issue and you look at other forms of information and evidence, and you reach a view on that issue. For us, we are certainly not pretending that anything we are doing is going to be an automatic way of generating answers. It just seems to us that it is an important part of the basic evidence base that, as a country, we ought to have in order to have that kind of informed debate. That is probably as much as we claim.

Juliet Michaelson: We see the advantages of an overarching well-being framework as doing some of that-as being able to pull together. ONS organised a seminar in November to mark the two-year point of the Measuring National Well-being Programme. There was a lot of discussion there about how the data from subjective well-being measures can act as a numéraire for all these different policy issues. As Joe Grice says, they do not provide all the answers, but they provide a structure that allows you to compare things which, ultimately, you might see as currently sitting in different policy silos. There is a sense of providing a common currency in being able to look at costs and benefits across the board.

The agitation and quiescence point highlights one of the advantages of using this sort of data, which is to make sure that you are capturing people’s experience of these things. Is this agitation a positive or a negative thing as you experience it? That is what the data bring in, which no other kinds of measure do. That is an important thing not to miss out when you are looking at these things.

Professor Bebbington: It is not quite down the line-it is actually in the other direction-but certainly a lot of the well-being work makes it clear that the quality of the local environment is really important for well-being. There are links in both directions, not purely that, if you exploit the environment, you will have lots more well-being, but well-being is also constituted by the nature of the natural environment and access to it. That is very clear from the data.

Q103 Chair: I will just go back to a point of detail. Earlier on, the response that you gave to Dr Offord, Professor Bebbington, related to the Oxfam humankind index for Scotland. Could you clear this up for me? I think you said that this measurement was flat-lining, whereas, as I am aware, the report says that, year on year, there had been a 1.2% increase from the previous year. Presumably, if there had been an increase in economic activity to the tune of 1.2%, that would definitely have had a definition of growth attached to it. How do you square that?

Professor Bebbington: I am more cautious about saying that it is definite growth or not, partly because of the nature of the figures, but also, as I read the report, they indicate that that is within the statistical bounds of error in a measurement sense, given the number of elements that are going into it. They certainly say that there is an increase, and the gap between the richest and the poorest has reduced. It then produced, for this year, a male and female differentiation point as well. Their report, in the footnotes, where I might spend more time, is reasonably modest about that, in saying that you cannot make any big claims on that, because of the statistical probability issues in there.

Chair: There we must leave it. I thank each of you for coming along this afternoon. This whole issue about "Are we looking just at economic growth or at other factors?" and where natural capital, social capital and everything else links into that is a very complex and long-term challenge facing us. Thank you very much indeed for your evidence this afternoon.

Prepared 8th August 2013