It’s time for a wellbeing economy—but what does that really mean?

Sarah Deas, WEAll Scotland Trustee

Imagine an economic system which delivers social justice on a healthy planet: a system in which the economy works for the people, not the other way around. This is a wellbeing economy.

At WEAll Scotland, our goal is to work with governments, organisations, and individuals to enable the transition to such an economy.

In a wellbeing economy, growth is an optional means, never the end goal, and it must always be inclusive. But what does this actually mean in practice?

Perhaps it’s easiest to start by explaining what a wellbeing economy is not.

A key component of our current economic system is the reliance on gross domestic product (GDP) to measure a country’s success. Unfortunately, GDP can be a misleading figure that reveals little about the millions of people who actually keep the economy running, day in and day out.

For example, the Office for National Statistics announced in August 2020 that the UK’s GDP had fallen 20.4% in the second quarter. The impact of COVID-19 has been difficult for everyone, especially those who have become ill or lost loved ones. For many, it’s been a stark prompt to take stock of what really matters, placing a greater emphasis on individual and community wellbeing.

So where does GDP come into all of this? GDP doesn’t acknowledge the outpouring of community support many have experienced, and it neglects our country’s renewed focus on nature. It measures cash transactions, which include drug dealing, but ignores volunteer work and caring duties.

Here’s a helpful way to see the contradictions inherent in GDP: if you drive your petrol-dependent car into a congested city, GDP goes up, whereas it completely ignores the number of cyclists using bike paths to commute into that same city.

This is no longer a niche perspective. The tumultuous events of 2020 have prompted a mainstream examination of our economy and who actually benefits from it.

Many local governments, such as North Ayrshire Council here in Scotland, have committed to ‘building back better’ through community wealth building strategies and green new deals.

And in June, the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery published its report, ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland. While it’s certainly promising to see wellbeing economy language featured on such a prominent, influential stage, it’s important that buzzwords don’t mask the meaning behind them. The report advocates ‘the importance of economic growth’, for example, which is not entirely in line with wellbeing economy principles.

A wellbeing economy is by no means anti-growth. It simply does not view growth as an end goal. The goal of a wellbeing economy is to achieve social justice on a healthy planet. And with the work that people all around Scotland are doing, we believe we’re getting one step closer to this goal every day.

If you want to learn more about wellbeing economy principles in greater detail, visit wellbeingeconomy.org/scotland for resources, articles, and more.

About the author

Sarah Deas is a trustee of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (Scotland). Winner of the 2020 IoD Scotland Non-Executive Director of the Year Award, she is also Chair of North Ayrshire Council’s Community Wealth Building expert advisory group.