Wellbeing: Why we need to refocus our economy

Craig Bennett

01 October 2014

It’s party conference season again and while the Scottish independence vote has certainly livened things up a bit, one common priority for all the main parties remains as boring and predictable as ever – the relentless pursuit of growth in GDP.

I was over in the United States last week for the New York climate march and found they were rather keen on it there too.

This is despite the mounting evidence that this obsession with GDP growth is leading us towards  disaster.

Yet successive UK governments pursue the endless expansion of consumer spending in order to grow the magic GDP number. And many of us are getting sucked in – our identities being increasingly linked with what we consume (PDF).

Worst of all, this isn’t making us any happier. Increasing GDP can disguise gross inequalities, which literally make us sick.

You might say it has given us much more comfortable, healthy lives. Yes we live longer and of course a certain level of material comfort is essential. But beyond a certain point it doesn’t increase our wellbeing (PDF). The good people of Costa Rica or Mexico have higher wellbeing than people in the UK or United States (countries with much higher GDP).

Get any group of people in a room and ask them what matters to them and common themes emerge: health, relationships, adequate income and the environment. Generally not shopping (PDF).

This is the basis of a new Friends of the Earth project in partnership with the Network of Wellbeing (NOW). Our aim is to set up a number of workshops around the UK. We’ll be bringing a broad range of local people together to agree what needs to happen to improve their wellbeing and then to act to achieve it – be it protecting green space, or fighting off a supermarket proposal to save local shops.

Of course we need change higher up too; we’re looking at opportunities to get the Government and EU to build on existing positive initiatives and make wellbeing a focus of policy-making.

So with any luck, instead of GDP, it will be wellbeing that enlivens the party conferences of 2015.

For more information, visit Friends of the Earth’s Wellbeing page.

Craig Bennett is Friends of the Earth's Policy and Campaigns Director. He will be speaking at the Resurgence Trust's Festival of Wellbeing on 11 October in London.

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