I am not opposed to the idea, splashed across the Guardian, of including a measurement of happiness and well-being in any assessment of how well or otherwise the country and its families are doing.
Given the subjectivity inevitably involved in such an assessment, it will not be straight-forward to agree on how the analysis is made. But it should not be impossible, and in deciding what factors to take into account, we might actually get a decent debate going about what makes people happy.
David Cameron appears to be saying that it is not just about the economy, stupid. Before the election he said general well-being was also about the environment, about culture, and about relationships. Not a bad start.
What is clear is that the government is floating this idea at a time of major risk. Economic uncertainty produces individual uncertainty which can reduce happiness. Cuts in public services will lead to people not getting the care or benefits they need, which won’t do much for their happiness. Nor will the extra homelessness likely as a result of some of the housing and benefit changes announced in the CSR. And the predictions of a rise in crime won’t help much either, if borne out by post-cuts reality. As for Cameron’s big three, he seems to have lost the passion for the environment on display when he first became leader, culture is going to take a huge whack as a result of the spending review and relationships will be put under strain as jobs are lost and living standards fall for so many of our people.
There may also be a case for including the Clegg factor in any index of happiness. I meet so many people who voted Lib Dem and say they’re not happy about it now.
But as I say up top, I do not think it is a bad idea. The key to it will be who makes the assessment and how. It cannot be left to government itself. The Office of National Statistics is a starting point but not on its own enough.
And with so many in the mental health services fearing the impact of cuts, might I suggest that some of those cut are put onto the Happiness Team.