A poll of the British public published on Monday reveals that an overwhelming majority would prefer the government to prioritise health and well-being over economic growth during the COVID-19 crisis.
Campaigners and politicians have responded to the poll by urging the government to measure quality of life as an assessment of success, rather than purely economic indicators, the Guardian reports.
The UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) figures are due to be published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday, and are expected to show a sharp drop in the estimates for January to March as lockdown measures hit the economy hard.
The survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the nonprofit Positive Money, asked 2,061 adults whether the UK should prioritise economic growth or health and well-being during the coronavirus crisis. Some 82% said the UK should prioritise health and well-being, while only 12% said economic growth was a priority, with 7% saying they don’t know.
Another question considered other policy goals — 61% of people said that the government should focus on improved social and environmental outcomes (such as life expectancy, education, and lower carbon emissions) over economic growth, as the country moves towards loosening lockdown rules.
"It’s clear that the vast majority of the public think we should worry more about people’s health and well-being than economic growth," Fran Boait, the executive director of Positive Money, said. "The government must not be tempted to pursue policies at the expense of lives, well-being, and the environment."
Boait added that economic change was needed as the country deals with the impact of the pandemic.
"With the coronavirus crisis hitting after a decade of anaemic economic growth, we are heading towards a ‘post-growth’ economy whether we like it or not," she said. "We have a choice of whether this will mean mass unemployment, deepening inequality, and lower quality of life for all, or whether we want to ensure that people are able to live longer, happier lives while avoiding catastrophic climate collapse."
It’s not the first time the UK has seen calls to consider factors beyond GDP as a measure of success. Last year, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said that the UK’s "obsession with GDP" threatened the planet.
In 2018, Joseph Stiglitz, a leading economist, called for an overall shift to focusing on health, education, and environmental outcomes, as it would help societies make changes to reflect those priorities.
Other countries have already adopted some of this approach, with New Zealand being the first country to adopt a "well-being budget" in 2019, focused on tackling poverty, domestic violence, and mental health.