November 8, 2023

What does the King’s speech do for our wellbeing?

by Dr Jenny Peachey, Carnegie UK

This week Carnegie UK published the largest ever study of the collective wellbeing of the people of the UK. Days later, the King detailed the UK Government’s legislative programme for the year ahead. Do the new laws proposed by Ministers look like they’ll tackle the problems identified in our research? Unfortunately, not.

Whilst legislation around tobacco and vapes, and a leasehold and freehold bill (however half-hearted), are not unwelcome, it is unclear how they will tackle the root causes of gross and widening inequality. Yet this is essential if we are to address the seeming intractability of these challenges and deliver a good quality of life not only for ourselves but future generations.

Lest we need reminding, we live in a hugely unequal society. Our new research shows that we live in a UK where disabled people, people living in areas of deprivation or on lower annual household incomes, and social housing or private tenants are living less well than their counterparts. And, if you’re a person under the age of 55, you’re more likely to find yourself in economically precarious circumstances, to feel as though you’ve no-one to rely upon in your neighbourhood, have issues with air quality and be politically disaffected.

That said, political disaffection is widespread and not limited to the under 55s: a whopping 73% of us feel we can’t influence decisions that affect the UK and over half of us (52%) have low levels of trust in the UK Government. The way Government has used law and order as an election ploy will impact people’s mistrust and sense of alienation from politics – be that for better or for worse is open to debate.

Having done some research on pedicabs (I live in Scotland) I realise a crackdown on unlicensed operators is a good thing. But I can’t help but wonder if support for this London-focused private members’ bill stems from Ministers being able to see, experience and understand this challenge. Not to mention being able to address it at low economic and political cost.

But given 65% of Rishi Sunak’s ‘top team’ team went to private school – almost ten times more than go to private school from the general public – there is a lot they cannot see, experience or understand: the lived experience of the 30% of us across the UK who can’t afford an unexpected expense of £850, the 17% of us who cannot afford to keep their home adequately warm, or the 40% of us who have experienced discrimination over the past year.

A narrow view on what matters (law and order and economic growth) from a narrow section of society who have a narrow set of experiences necessarily leads to narrowly informed decision making. Moreover, legislation is a limited tool: big change requires both cash and political capital, both in short supply.

But what if we had measures that helped whoever it is in power to see things in the round? That provided a broader approach to measuring and acting on what matters? One that involves putting social, economic, environmental and democratic wellbeing at the heart of decision making in order to bring about better outcomes for our citizens? Our Life in the UK Index is just such an attempt: to create that single number that could answer the question of ‘how life is’ and address the distorting dominance of decisions made for economic growth alone.