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It's not about the money, money ... Scots index measures the feelgood factors

A technique pioneered in Scotland to measure quality of life will now be used all over the world.

The Humankind Index, designed by Oxfam's Scottish Office, aims to measure what we need to nurture that feel-good feeling.

It uses 18 measures including health, transport, experiences of work and even access to parks to calculate quality of life and social justice.

"This isn't about 'happiness'," said Dr Katherine Trebeck, the Oxfam UK poverty project adviser who oversaw the creation of the Humankind Index. "We're not asking people 'are they happy?' It's about collective wellbeing; it's about what communities need and is more asset-focused. This is about inclusion and social justice."

Judith Robertson, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: "For too long we have pursued policies that place economic growth and measures like Gross Domestic Product above anything else – that approach needs to change.

"Our economy shouldn't just be about growth, it should be about supporting everything that makes life worth living. That means decent work, decent housing, a clean environment, green spaces and good local services. The Humankind Index is a tool that helps us move towards that kind of economy. ''

Now charity bosses are making the index available for use across the globe, as part of Oxfam's work on sustainable living and measures of inequality. Oxfam offices overseas in "middle economy" countries, such as Brazil, are understood to be among the first where the research will be carried out.

The move to extend the research programme comes amid praise for the index from MSPs.

During a debate at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, several MSPs agreed there was a need to move away from looking just at economic measures such as GDP as a benchmark for how well the country is doing.

Labour's finance spokesman Ken Macintosh MSP lodged a motion congratulating Oxfam Scotland for creating the index, which was backed by the SNP's Linda Fabiani and Green co-convener Patrick Harvie. And Drew Smith, Labour's social justice spokesman, branded the index "potentially revolutionary".

Finance Secretary John Swinney said he believed the Humankind Index could inform a wider discussion about improvements to the Scottish Government's National Performance Framework – a set of objectives set down by ministers during the SNP's first term in office.

He said: "When I look at some aspects of the Humankind Index, I see approaches that are similar to the outcomes of the National Performance Framework. We should be prepared to build on it. Ministers would be delighted to discuss that with members across the Parliament Chamber."

The Humankind Index found most Scots put much greater weight on the quality of their lives and work, than on material wealth and success.

Quality of life for most people in Scotland had improved slightly – by 1.2% – between 2007-08 and 2009-10, chiefly due to improvements in their health and community spirit.

But over the same period, the poorest had fallen behind – they experienced a 40% gap when it came to the quality and safety of their local environment and streets, a 16% difference in their ability to manage financially, and a 10% gap in their health. Oxfam said that raised serious questions about the damage being done by the recession.

Judith Robertson told the Sunday Herald: "We were delighted by the support the index received from MSPs this week. We hope Scotland can lead the way internationally by re-thinking our approach to measuring prosperity.

"We're very excited by interest in the index from outside Scotland and about the opportunity to offer it to other Oxfam country programmes around the world. This type of approach can not only benefit Scotland, it can help empower communities around the world so that policy-makers base decisions on their real priorities."

Comment

By Judith Robertson, head of Oxfam Scotland

This week the Scottish Government outlined its latest programme for government. But what if ministers could test their plans in advance and in a transparent way against the priorities outlined by ordinary Scots? For too long, our well-being has been measured on our behalf and in the narrowest of ways: recession = bad; economic growth = good. For politicians, economic growth has been a holy grail.

Yet our collective prosperity is about more than just Gross Domestic Product. That's why Oxfam Scotland asked Scots what really matters to them. The result is a new measure of Scotland's collective prosperity: the Oxfam Humankind Index. Scots told us an affordable, decent, safe home is their top priority, alongside being healthy in body and mind. Then comes the chance to live in a clean, healthy neighbourhood, where people can enjoy going outside. Money is lower down the list – but satisfaction from work, whether paid or unpaid, is much more important than cash.

We worked with the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University to find out how Scotland is performing against the priorities outlined by people. We found our collective prosperity went up slightly – by 1.2% – between 2007-08 and 2009-10. This good news is mainly due to progress across non-economic factors such as health, community spirit and better local environments.

In contrast, areas connected to the economic aspects of life seem to be deteriorating. The lack of secure jobs and the dire need for a stable and sufficient source of money are acting as a drag on Scotland's prosperity. And even though prosperity overall is rising, there is a worrying gap between the performance of Scotland's most-deprived communities and the country as a whole.

Our index has been built by and for Scots. It can and should be used by politicians and policy-makers as a complement to traditional economic measures like GDP. Fortunately, it appears this type of approach is gaining real momentum.

We need an economy that doesn't, for example, just talk about creating jobs, but asks how well-paid those jobs will be and whether they will help people have a fulfilling family life. The Humankind Index for Scotland is a tool that will help us get there.

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