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Does Scotland need a ‘well by’ date?


When people thrive, so does the economy, says George Eckton

Recent years have seen a growing interest in the idea of a wellbeing economy.

This concept aims to ensure equal opportunities for advancement, social inclusion and prosperity, and for these factors to contribute to communities' resilience and ability to cope with challenges. The idea is that when people thrive, the economy does too.

The benefits of such a society are now recognised across the political spectrum. This is great, but if we are serious about making it a reality, do we also need a target date for Scotland to have a basic level of wellbeing that is a bare minimum/right for all?

Pie in the sky? I don’t think so. The framework for a cost-benefit analysis to assign a standard monetary value to wellbeing has significantly progressed in recent years. Even the UK Treasury now endorses a recommended metric: the Wellbeing-Adjusted Life Year (WELLBY), which measures an individual’s quality of life in monetary terms.

You can read more about how the WELLBY method works online (it’s fascinating). However, for me, in my day job in the Citizens Advice Scotland network, it seems an appropriate way to monitor mental health/wellbeing levels in our clients, staff, and volunteers. It builds on existing necessary measures focusing on the cash that our advice puts in our clients' pockets and is then spent in the local economy or preventing further pressures on other services.

Our network’s impact on wellbeing is critical in several ongoing legislative/policy discussions, namely the Community Wealth Building Bill and the Human Rights and Well-Being/Sustainable Development Bill.

WELLBYs compare wellbeing across areas and over time, making them potentially valuable for policymakers. They allow for directly evaluating the effect of policy changes on human lives rather than through proxy measures like GDP. Especially useful for holistic/person-centred services like our CAB network, WELLBYs should help define policy objectives and influence system design to avoid detriment in the first place. 

However, in addition to this ongoing work, I think Scotland should open a discussion on setting a date in legislation for when well-being needs to be at a basic level for all in Scotland. This would show what we value and what we are seeking to measure, eg “Scottish ministers must ensure that the net Scottish wellbeing account for the target year is at least XX% higher than the baseline.”

Personal wellbeing is the most direct representation of people's health, and that seems a significant measure in a wellbeing economy - and also for the CAB network. You can’t put a price on good advice or advocacy.

I don’t need to tell you what the alternative looks like. Poor wellbeing means poor health (mental and physical), crushing poverty, lower expectations, lower life expectancy, higher unemployment and a stagnant economy. If all this seems depressingly familiar, that shows how much further we must go in delivering change and learning from the past.

But doesn’t it also show that our current societal model is broken and that we need something new? Why not focus on a person’s quality of life and their role in broader wealth creation rather than just GDP? In any case, a fitter, happier population would also be more economically productive.

So collectively, let’s Imagine a ‘well-by’ date for Scotland—a time when everyone should have a basic level of well-being. It’s like setting a minimum standard for how good people’s lives should be.

George Eckton is director of advice services at Citizens Advice Scotland.

This article originally appeared in the Herald.



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