24 March 2015
APPG Wellbeing Economics - Hustings Event
Kanchan Desai – The Mindfulness Foundation
On Tuesday, 24th March, a hustings event was held at Westminster by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell and hosted by Baroness Claire Tyler, Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords. Also on the panel was Chris Ruane, Labour MP and co-chair of the Mindfulness APPG.
Gus O’ Donnell opened the hustings, pointing out the disconnect between wellbeing and its perceived relevance in political agenda. He believed that the foundation had been laid for a richer understanding of natural / human capital. There was greater confidence in social value of volunteering. He believed that the momentum must not be lost, and there should be the reassurance of the political will to commit to wellbeing. As an example he mentioned access to green spaces.
Candidates were then invited to set out their party’s position on wellbeing. It was Nick Hurd for the Conservatives, Helen Goodman for Labour, and Paul Burstow for the Lib Dems and Dr Rupert Read for the Green Party. Chris Ruane asked for their views on the role of mindfulness in wellbeing.
All candidates set out the way their party gave importance to wellbeing and how it should be given greater priority on the government agenda, but differed in the means to achieve it.
Paul Burstow (Lib Dems) noted that their party has been in pursuit of measurement, of more subjective parameters to measure wellbeing. He believed there should be greater emphasis on prevention of mental illness. They believe in a unified care act with a clear purpose for the principal of social care. Including mental health and early years. He advocated one framework for wellbeing, and that there should be parity of esteem between pharmaceutical and paramedical interventions. On the question of mindfulness, Lib Dems were committed to its introduction in schools, would encourage more research for a stronger evidence base, and believed in having more mindful employers, too.
Helen Goodman, (Labour) believed that increased wellbeing was undeniably linked with wealth and that the better off were shown to have higher wellbeing scores than those in poverty. Reducing inequality would be the primary focus of achieving wellbeing. Security in work, less unemployment and due help for disability were necessary for wellbeing. When asked about mindfulness, she believed it was necessary to take into account the perception of happiness/ wellbeing in different social strata before such interventions could be advocated.
Nick Hurd (Conservatives) pointed out that his government had already demonstrated its commitment to reducing inequality with its commitment to boost social investment aimed at the most vulnerable in society. He emphasised the role of volunteering and schemes such as National Citizen Service in raising the morale of disadvantaged youth. When it came to the expansion of industry at the expense of the environment, he supported environmental issues based on the principle of conserving areas of natural beauty. On mindfulness, and its introduction in schools he believed more evidence was required, for more funding in that area.
Dr Rupert Read ( Green Party ) believed that the obsession with growth was unnecessary and believed that wellbeing would be better achieved by discarding ‘wage slavery’. There should be a citizens income and reducing the working week to 21 hours. He believes there is plenty of wealth, it just needs to be shared better across society. He emphasised the need to tackle the underlying causes preventing well being, including sustainable economic projects. He believed excessive testing of students and exposing them to marketing of unsuitable products needed to be tackled. Certainly the use of GDP as a measure of economic progress must be discarded in favour of more subjective measures of wellbeing. It was time the government was serious about achieving wellbeing rather than merely measuring. On mindfulness, he personally experiences the value of contemplative practices being a part-time buddhist himself, but believes it is extremely important to tackle the drivers of inequality.
This lively debate lasted well over an hour and a half and covered all areas favoured by the political parties from green spaces to mental health. Inspite of the differing attitudes, there was on strong common ground: well being is being given much higher importance by all political parties.