Measuring wellbeing – will it drive a change in mindset?

What is wellbeing and how can it be measured? These are questions which the ONS attempted to answer in a first report on this subject published on Monday.

Some of the key factors which mattered to people and which participants thought should be included in a measure of wellbeing were:
• health
• good connections with friends and family
• job satisfaction and economic security
• present and future conditions of the environment
• education and training

Most of us would agree that these are recognisable issues which have an impact on our wellbeing, and indeed most of them are concerns that the state tries to address and provide for where necessary. However there is a tradition of looking at these factors very much in separation. Policies come from different departments and in general professionals concentrate on only one aspect ie health or education.

In many cases it is clear that the factors listed above interact and that one issue will affect the others.  In our work at 2020health we have seen an interaction between health and many of the factors mentioned – health is influenced by mental health, social contact, work and the workplace, and our level of education. In particular in our recent work we have studied the strong interaction between work and health, with good work improving our health, as well as our health relating to our ability to work.

Whilst the government’s objective of measuring wellbeing is to measure how well the country is doing, and how this measure changes over time, an understanding of wellbeing may aid us to think in a more realistic way about how we can help individuals to improve their wellbeing. An understanding of how the factors which contribute to wellbeing interact may allow us to get better at addressing these issues together, looking at the ‘whole person’ rather than simply trying to improve one aspect of their lives.

Local councils have a mandate to work to improve the wellbeing of their local population.  Recent changes and the development of health and wellbeing boards will allow the health services to work more closely with councils to try to achieve this aim.  Let us hope that these new partnerships will develop new ways of tackling these issues on a local level and lead to wellbeing improvements.

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