How can we measure Scotland's well-being? New index from Oxfam.

Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme – constructing and testing a humankind workshopwellbeing index for Scotland. Guardian coverage here. Here’s how it works: Oxfam consulted 3,000 people across Scotland (focus groups, community workshops – see pic, street stalls, an online survey, and a YouGov poll) to establish what aspects of life make a difference to them. The consultation process produced an index based on a weighted set of elements (‘sub-domains’) that people reported as affecting the ability to live well in their communities (see table). People identified the following (in descending order of priority) as being the most important assets in their lives: • An affordable, decent and safe home and good physical and mental health • Living in a neighbourhood where you can enjoy going outside and having a clean and healthy environment • Having satisfying work to do (whether paid or unpaid); having good relationships with family and friends; feeling that you and those you care about are safe; access to green and wild spaces; and community spaces and play areas. Using official data, the Oxfam Humankind Index was then calculated for 2009-2010 and 2007-2008, with at least one surprising result: ‘Since 2007-2008, Scotland’s prosperity has increased by 1.2%.’ Eh? Things are getting better in the middle of a recession? The reason is that since people weighted issues like housing, health and safety higher than economic factors like job security and having enough money, even though the economic factors have slumped since the onset of the current economic crisis, improvements, particularly in perceptions of health and community spirit, more than made up for the deterioration. This also reinforces the discussion at the big well-being conference in South Korea a few years ago, where well-being experts said that well-being demonstrates much less volatility than some of the more conventional economic numbers. humankind indexThe index also explored the differences between the average numbers and those for some of Scotland’s most deprived areas and found that ‘Deprived communities come off worse on 12 of the 15 subdomains for which differences between the two communities were able to be measured. The major disparities are in terms of whether people are able to enjoy going outside and having a clean and healthy environment; access to green spaces and play areas; and safety. These three areas account for just over 40% of the difference between deprived communities and all of Scotland. People living in deprived communities are also less likely to feel they are part of a community, and overall the majority of the deficit thus arises from differences in the quality of life in the local area.’ The project highlighted some gaps in the official data (on relationships with family and friends, job and income security and human rights and respect), that the Scottish Government could usefully fill. The good news is that the project will improve with age, as updates of the survey start to build a picture of how Scotland’s wellbeing and the multidimensional inequality evolves over time, enabling a really interesting comparison with the traditional economic indicators. Last word to Gerry Hassan, one of Scotland’s most influential commentators, from his piece in The Scotsman: ‘We have just been given the beginnings of a debate that could start to shape an alternative Scotland, one where we consciously imagine and create our own collective future and idea of society. Maybe, many years from now, we might remember this week more for that, than for all the hullaballoo about the Murdochs, Trump and Rangers FC.’ And a really lovely 3 minute youtube video – reminds you what it’s all about. ]]>

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our .

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.


3 Responses to “How can we measure Scotland's well-being? New index from Oxfam.”
  1. Ros Hirschowitz

    I am worried about this index and the way it has been constructed. It is out of line with good questionnaire design practice. There is more than one concept covered in certain questions, making them difficult to answer. For example,”living in an environment where you can enjoy going outside” and “having a clean and healthy environment” are phrased as one question, but it contains two separate concepts. For me, an environment where I can enjoy going outside means I feel safe (but it may mean something different to those living in a cold climate), and a clean and health environment means it is pollution-free. How do I answer if I want to rate or rank each part of the question differently (it is not clear if a ranking or rating scale was used)? Another example, Having enough money to pay the bills is different from having enough money to buy what you need. I may want to rate or rank these items separately. I would like to suggest that you modify this index by avoiding separate clauses with different meanings in one question.

  2. Dear Ros
    Thanks for taking the time to comment on our wee project. The subdomains you see listed are the result of painstaking analysis (by the new economics foundation) of our mixed methods consultation. In doing so they combined similar areas – as you identify. They did so where people talked about charactertics of an issue that was important to them.
    The approach adopted by nef is available on our website – the report entitled ‘Methods’.
    The questionaires we used in various aspects of the consultation were designed with the advice of experts in participatory research, including nef and academics from the University of Glasgow.
    In the consultation itself issues were delinated (as you recommend) – you see the results of those, not the questions themselves.
    Again, we’ve tried to be transparent and include discussion of this approach in the methods paper referred to above.
    Of course our approach was not perfect – it was very challenging! But we did our best with limited resources.
    Happy to provide more information if you want – or discuss it more. You can get in touch via
    Thanks again, Katherine

  3. I’m a big fan of the Index: it should be common knowledge by now that it’s not growth per se that matters, but the quality and distribution of what makes up that ‘output’ that matters. It’s great, though, to see the people of Scotland given the opportunity to express their own views on these crucial questions.
    I’m particularly struck by a couple of things you draw out. First, that true well-being levels are less prone to fluctuation than economic output makes complete sense (especially given the above), but sadly I think the picture would be less optimistic today and in the next few years. Partly, that’s because growth (at least the way our economy is structured) is instrumentally enormously valuable, most particularly in its impact on employment – not just on job levels, but also on security, labour rights, and underemployment. Of course, (un)employment is a lagging indicator of growth. But it’s also because of the political fallout of recession, and the decisions made to cut public services and social security spending. We’ll be publishing a report in the next month or so that tells the story of what I suppose you could call the late recession / early recovery period.
    Far more optimistic are what you draw out around the things that matter to people in Scotland most of all. They sound to me like things we can change, and an argument for protecting the things we have already built together as a society (our much-denigrated ‘public services) and then building on them, rather than tearing them down. I think identifying what matters is a hugely important first step towards prioritising it.
    P.S. I really enjoyed the video.