The Office of National Statistics is consulting on the first set of measures for national well-being. Current proposals do not propose specific measures relating to Arts and Heritage.
The importance of well-being
81 percent of Britons believe that the Government should prioritise creating the greatest happiness, not the greatest wealth.
The New Economics Foundation’s Centre for Well-being identifies that 'well-being' is one of most important aspect of our lives, as individuals and as societies.
But despite unprecedented economic prosperity in the last 35 years we do not necessarily feel better individually or as communities.
Data shows that whilst economic output in the UK has nearly doubled since 1973, levels of happiness have remained flat. Beyond a certain level of income and material stability, more money has a negligible and even negative impact on the quality of our lives. Meanwhile 81 percent of Britons believe that the Government should prioritise creating the greatest happiness, not the greatest wealth.
The sense we gained at a recent presentation at the House of Commons by Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell was that, once implemented, the measurement of well-being will have a significant impact on the design, targeting and impact of policy making across government
In which case the absence of proper measurement of arts, culture and heritage would be disastrous. As Sir Gus himself said: ‘if you treasure it, measure it’.
The omission of art and culture from well-being
The first warning signal comes in the document’s footer which lists the following government departments:
- Children, Schools and Families
- Communities and Local Government
- Energy and Climate Change
- Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Home Office
- Information Centre for Health and Social Care
- Office for National Statistics
- Work and Pensions
With the glaring and frankly perplexing absence of Culture, Media or Sport.
The current consultation presents the first step in the development of domains (aspects of well-being) and headline measures of National Well-being and is published to obtain the public’s views.
The proposals will need detailed consideration– but in respect of Overarching Domains for collection of data, arts, culture and heritage are referenced only obliquely within ‘an individual’s engagement with leisure activities outside work’ and ‘access to communal ‘facilities’.
The result is that when it comes to actual measures emerging from these headline indicators there is very little material reference to arts, culture and heritage.
Culture and heritage are referenced under the ‘Where we Live’ heading where the ONS indicates that (despite this area ‘being raised in the national debate’) ‘we have not proposed headline indicators’. Perhaps this needs to be re-considered?
Making the case for arts and culture
"If you treasure it, measure it." Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell
The current proposals were developed from the responses to the national debate, research into well-being and international initiatives.
We understand that in the 34,000 public responses to the previous consultation there was little mention of culture – and the arts and cultural sector hasn’t shouted up loudly enough to compensate.
We know that there must be a great deal of existing evidence/research out there around quality of life/well-being/engagement in arts, culture, creativity/heritage. Perhaps we need to gather together the existing evidence to back our case?
The consultation closed in January 2012, the responses used to further develop the domains and headline measures.
The Happy Museum will be working with others in the sector to produce a detailed response which it will also make public. We urge others in the arts, cultural and heritage sector to take a moment to look further at the proposals and ensure the response from the sector is heard.
Details of consultation can be found online.
The Happy Museum Project is a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Breakthrough Project which aims to challenge museums to adapt their behaviours to promote high well-being, sustainable living using their innate qualities to inspire a re-imagining of a society which values co-operation and stewardship as much as it does economic well-being.
More information about the programme, its six commissioned projects and the Happy Museum Manifesto (co-written by the New Economics Foundation and museum practitioners) can be found on the Happy Museum website.