Positive News commissioned an interesting survey to coincide with their latest report. They asked people to say which should be the priority right now – GDP growth or wellbeing. They also asked how people would prioritise these two after the pandemic.
The results are that 82% of respondents thought the ‘health and wellbeing of UK citizens’ was more important than ‘the economic growth of the UK’. Just 12% said growth, and 7% didn’t know.
The percentage drops to 61% after the pandemic ends, but that’s still a significant majority of people who think that health and wellbeing are more important. That’s encouraging for advocates of wellbeing economics. It was interesting to see that the numbers were highest in Scotland, where there has been a more active debate around wellbeing.
However, I do have a problem with the question posed here. Yougov asked the following question: “If you had to choose, which ONE of the following do you think the UK should prioritise more?” That sets growth up against health and wellbeing as a binary choice, which is artificial. No government thinks of it that way, and I suspect that if they were forced to choose between the two, most politicians would have to say health and wellbeing too. If people had been able to choose ‘both’, I’m pretty sure the majority would have chosen that. And rightly so, since health and wellbeing is going to be profoundly affected by the collapse of the economy and the loss of jobs.
Still, the finding is illustrative of broad support for wellbeing measures as a priority. It suggests to me that the idea of ‘Arrival‘ that Katherine Trebeck and I describe in our book is almost implicit in people’s understanding of what’s important, and that GDP growth is an abstract idea that doesn’t resonate with people’s ordinary lives. As Positive Money say, “chasing GDP growth above all else has failed to alleviate poverty and destroyed our environment. It’s time for a radical reorientation of our current economy to favour social and environmental wellbeing.”
And I recommend downloading the new paper from Positive Money, The Tragedy of Growth. I have some questions about it, but it could be a bit of a landmark paper in the postgrowth debate in Britain.