Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Well-being and happiness as the goal of public policy

Quality of Life (QoL) is often used as a synonym for well-being. To keep clarity will continue to use the term ‘well-being’, instead of ‘quality of life’. However, its notable that QoL is often linked to the personal capabilities of individual. Interpersonal qualities of a person such as self-esteem and sense of autonomy also play a role in an individual’s sense of well-being.

Relationship play an essential role for human happiness and can have direct impact upon people’s self-esteem. One might say that by investing in quality of relationships will improve interpersonal qualities of person and therefore support human development in the sense of achieving greater level of QoL or well-being?

Numerous studies point out that investing in human well-being has a long term positive impact not only at an individual level, but for communities and nations as a whole. For example, Ben-Arieh et al. (2001) argue this point by evidencing the fact that understanding children’s health and nutrition alongside their spiritual, social and moral development not only provides insight into children’s wellbeing now, but also their ’wellbecoming‘ in the future. From the children right’s perceptive children can be seen as citizens in their own right who have declared rights as pointed out in United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  (UNCRC) (1989). Acknowledging and establishing the fact that children have rights to well-being now and wellbecoming in the future, provides justification for policies which are purely designed for children and young people in mind.  

High profile media cases of child abuse have also led for a call for governments to design policies that will not only keep children safe, but promote their well-being. Or one could argue that these cases are simply making politicians and policy makers paranoid about child protection at the expense of wellbeing. However,  a number of policies have been developed to meet this need such as the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) (2008), a  policy programme in Scotland which is broadly similar to the English policy programme ‘Every Child Matters’. Both of these programmes are designed for professionals in the children’s services workforce to improve children’s well-being.  The UNICEF (2007) report ’An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries ranked children’s well-being in UK very poor in comparison with 21 other industrialised countries. This finding itself demanded reforms and new policies which aim to improve children’s well-being in the UK.  Data such as the UNICEF publication provides evidence that can be used when arguing on behalf of new policies. It gives a weight for the demands to place well-being at the core of public policy design that is aimed for children and young people.  If feelings of happiness are subjective, making happiness an aim of policy might be a difficult task.  A recent NEF (2010) publication concludes that: “Wellbeing is more than happiness. The aim of local government, therefore, should not be to set out to make people happy, but to create the conditions that enable citizens and communities to do well in life, to flourish.” Investing in functioning communities that support social interaction and  relationships might be a sensible way forward to support individuals and communities to do well in life.


Ben-Arieh, A. and Goerge, R. (2007). Multinational Project for Measuring and
Children’s Wellbeing (

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) programme (2008). Scottish Government. Edinburgh: Scotland.(
NEF (2010).’ The role of local government in promoting wellbeing.’ Local Government Improvement and Development and NEF. London, England: The New Economics Foundation.

UNICEF (2007).’An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries.’ Florence: UNICEF (

UNCRC United Nations (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York/Geneva: Centre for Human Rights, UN.

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