Improving public policy by promoting wellbeing
Submitting InstitutionLondon School of Economics & Political Science
Unit of AssessmentEconomics and Econometrics
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
The Wellbeing Programme at the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance
(CEP) was founded in 2001, based on the belief that subjective wellbeing
should be the main criterion for making government policy. The research
programme has had a widespread impact on many UK government policies,
including policies for measuring national wellbeing; for Improving Access
to Psychological Therapies in the NHS; for improving life skills in
schools; and for apprenticeships. CEP research has also had significant
impact worldwide, including on the OECD's measurement programme, the World
Economic Forum, and the United Nations (UN) process towards making
happiness one of the `sustainable development goals' after 2015.
RESEARCH INSIGHTS AND OUTPUTS: The Wellbeing Programme took off
with the publication of Layard's 2003 Robbins Memorial Lectures (1) and
his 2005 book (2). The programme's main aims since then have been to
promote the use of happiness as a criterion for public policy, and to
provide research underpinnings for policies to improve happiness.
1. Happiness in general: Time-series data show that despite major rises
in income in many countries, wellbeing has not risen since records began —
and yet people want more income. CEP research explains this apparent
contradiction by showing that what people mainly care about is their
income relative to other people (3): this greatly reduces the power of
economic growth to raise average wellbeing. The work also provides
empirical evidence in support of greater income equality by showing that
an extra pound gives x times more extra wellbeing to a poor person than it
does to someone who is x times richer (4).To provide a balanced survey of
all the different causes of wellbeing, CEP researchers co-edited the World
Happiness Report for the first UN Conference on Happiness in 2012, and
wrote the review chapter on the causes of happiness (5).
2. Measurement of wellbeing: If wellbeing is to become the goal of public
policy, a first step is to have regular official measurements of
population wellbeing. A CEP team surveyed the evidence on possible
measures and wrote a proposal for the four questions that should be asked
(6). The UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) adopted these proposals
for the regular national survey that began in 2011.
3. Mental health: CEP research shows that mental health is a major
determinant of wellbeing -more important than income. To persuade the UK
government to expand psychological therapy services, CEP researchers
conducted a cost-benefit analysis of cognitive behavioural therapy, which
showed that wider provision would have zero net cost to the UK Treasury
(7). Following this, in 2007, the government launched the Improving Access
to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme and a CEP team evaluated first
the two demonstration sites (8) and then the first year of the national
rollout. The evaluations showed that the best results were achieved by
implementing the treatments that CEP had proposed.
4. Life skills in schools: Prevention is better than cure — so, to
improve mental health, it is highly desirable to increase the resilience
of young people. One notable intervention is the 18-hour Penn Resilience
Programme. In small trials, this had already been shown to have good
results, but a wider field trial was needed. CEP persuaded 22 English
schools to introduce the programme and Layard's CEP colleagues Amy Challen
and Stephen Machin led the evaluation (9). This showed that the programme
had long-lasting effects on school performance and good short-term results
on emotional health though these faded over time. CEP is now promoting the
trial of a much longer 140-hour programme based on a worldwide search for
5. Apprenticeship: Unemployment is a major source of misery, especially
among young people. CEP researchers, notably Layard's colleague Hilary
Steedman, have long advocated apprenticeships along the lines of Germany's
system and the latest evaluation of international evidence has been part
of the campaign to bring this about (10).
KEY RESEARCHER: Professor Layard has been at LSE since 1964.
References to the research
5. Clark, Andrew, Richard Layard and Claudia Senik (2012) `The Causes of
Happiness and Misery', in World Happiness Report edited by John
Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia UP: 58-89 http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/47487/
EVIDENCE OF QUALITY: 2008 IZA International Prize in Labour
Economics for `The Marginal Utility of Income', Journal of Public
Economics. Key research awards: US National Institute on Aging,
$1,075,000 (2011-16); Department of Work & Pensions, £300,000
(2011-13); Department for Children, Schools and Families, £340,951
(2007-10); Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, £334,000 (2005-10)
Details of the impact
The impact of CEP's Wellbeing Programme has been not only on UK public
policy (items A-E below), but also international (items F-H) and cultural
A. Wellbeing as a goal of UK public policy (including
measurement): Since the beginning of CEP's Wellbeing Programme in 2003,
there have been regular interactions with the Treasury and Cabinet Office
on how wellbeing can become a central goal of public policy. Through the
efforts of Gus O'Donnell (Cabinet Secretary between 2005 and 2011 and a
member of the CEP Policy Committee) and both Labour and Coalition
governments, the UK has led the world on this issue.
In 2008, the ONS sought CEP's help on what questions could be asked in a
regular national survey of wellbeing and in 2011, adopted the proposals
(6). Layard and his colleague Paul Dolan sit on the relevant ONS
committees: the Measuring National Well-being Advisory Forum and the
Measuring National Well-being Technical Advisory Group.
B. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)
programme: The greatest specific result of CEP's work has been the IAPT
programme announced by Alan Johnson in October 2007. In 2005, CEP
researchers gave a seminar on this issue in the Cabinet Office and secured
a pledge in Labour's election manifesto. In 2006, the CEP Mental Health
Policy Group was formed to work out how this pledge should be implemented.
The group's Depression Report (which has been downloaded 315,000 times
since 2006) proposed a specific six-year programme and this has been
implemented in the way proposed and is increasingly becoming part of the
mainstream NHS. The programme is now treating 400,000 people a year, with
45% recovery rates. It has been acclaimed by Nature as `world-beating'.
Layard is an official adviser to the programme and has been a central
figure in securing and implementing the programme. The original IAPT
programme applied only to adults. In 2008, Layard proposed a somewhat
similar programme for children (Child Mental Health: key to a healthier
society). In 2010, this proposal was broadly accepted and is being
implemented through extension of the programme to children and young
C. The UK Resiliency Programme: In 2006, CEP joined the Young
Foundation and IdeA to develop a Wellbeing Programme with three local
authorities: Hertfordshire, Manchester and South Tyneside. The biggest
element in this was the UK version of the Penn Resiliency Programme. The
researchers organised trials in 22 schools and, with a large Department
for Education grant, evaluated the outcome. The programme is now being
taught routinely in 60 schools in 10 local authorities. The researchers
have a large grant from the Education Endowment Foundation to conduct a
trial programme for the whole Personal, Social and Health Education
curriculum for the 11-15 age group.
D. The Apprenticeship Act 2009: Since the early 1990s, CEP
researchers have been pressing the government to offer apprenticeships as
the main alternative to university as a route to skill. Since 2000, they
have advocated the guarantee of an apprenticeship to every young person
who wants one (with a few specific exemptions). In 2007, at Layard's
suggestion, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee produced a
report on apprenticeship that endorsed this suggestion. The report was
drafted by the Committee's adviser, Hilary Steedman, and led to a
government green paper and then the Apprenticeship Act of 2009, which
introduced the guarantee from 2015. Since 2008, apprenticeships for
under-25s have increased by 50%.
E. The Good Childhood Report (2009): Layard drafted the report
from this enquiry, which was commissioned by the Children's Society.
Recommendations that have been implemented include the introduction of
Improved Access to Psychological Therapies for children and young people
(2010), pilots of parenting classes in Camden, Middlesbrough and High
Peak, Derbyshire (http://www.canparent.org.uk, 2012)
and expanded apprenticeships (2009).
F. OECD wellbeing measures: CEP has a longstanding interaction
with the OECD, which has now held three large conferences on `What is
Progress?', each of which has featured presentations by CEP researchers.
The OECD, which master-minded the international measures of GDP, has now
recommended international measures of wellbeing that are heavily
influenced by the CEP proposals adopted by the ONS. The OECD Guidelines on
Measuring Subjective Wellbeing (2013) begin with the questions that CEP
persuaded the ONS to use in the UK.
G. The UN and sustainable development goals: At the world level,
the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on 13 July 2011, encouraging
member states to pay more attention to the goal of happiness, and mandated
a conference at the UN on the issue in April 2012. Layard was invited to
co-edit the World Happiness Report, which was published at that conference
and is contributing to the choice of objectives that will replace the
Millennium Development Goals from 2015.
H. World Economic Forum: In 2011, the World Economic Forum asked
Layard to chair their Global Agenda Council on Health and Wellbeing. He
master-minded their report, Wellbeing and Global Success, and presented it
at Davos in January 2012. There is now growing business interest in
workers' wellbeing as one feature of a good business. For example, in
March 2012, Layard was asked to give a one-hour lunchtime talk to more
than 800 people at Goldman Sachs on the theme Can we be happier?
I Action for Happiness and media culture: Reaching a wider public
requires a movement. To promote a happier society, Layard collaborated
with Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon to launch Action for Happiness in
March 2011. It now has 22,000 members in 124 countries pledged to try to
create more happiness in the world and less misery. More generally, CEP's
Wellbeing Programme has played a significant role in stimulating the
extraordinary recent explosion in media focus on wellbeing. Since 2003,
the research has received over 1,130 references in the press; CEP
researchers have made more than 120 radio and TV appearances and given
over 100 public talks.
Sources to corroborate the impact
All sources listed below can also be seen at: https://apps.lse.ac.uk/impact/case-study/view/16
A. Wellbeing as a goal of UK public policy (including measurement) — Lord
Gus O'Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary. Also, ONS Website: Society
Wellbeing and Guidance and Methodology section (includes CEP
B. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme —
Professor Louis Appleby, former Director of Mental Health, England.
Article: `Therapy deficit', Nature, 27 September 2012, 489: 473-4.
Article: Polly Toynbee, `It is not fanciful to make the pursuit of
happiness a political imperative`, The Guardian, 16 June 2006
C. The UK Resiliency Programme — Professor Martin Seligman (University of
Pennsylvania).Publication: The state of happiness: Can public policy
shape people's wellbeing and resilience?, 2010, The Young
D. The Apprenticeship Act 2009 Nick Pearce, Director of IPPR, former Head
of the Policy Unit at No 10. (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/22/notes/contents
Also, Report: Apprenticeship: a key route to skill, House of Lords
Select Committee on Economic Affairs, 5th Report of Session 2006-07. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldselect/ldeconaf/138/138.pdf)
E. The Good Childhood Report A Good Childhood, Richard Layard and
Judy Dunn, Penguin, 2009. Press coverage (http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/news/topic.asp?topic=a+good+childhood).
F. OECD wellbeing measures http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/
and `Guidelines on measuring subjective well-being', published in 2013:
G. The UN and Sustainable Development Goals World Happiness Report,
2012. Downloaded 619,234 times and approximately 1,000 hard copies
have been distributed. (http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sitefiles/file/Sachs%20Writing/2012/World%20Happiness%20Repot.pdf)
H. World Economic Forum Report: Well-being and Global Success,
I. Action for Happiness and media culture. Anthony Seldon
(Master, Wellington College) http://www.actionforhappiness.org/.
J. Press coverage of the activities of the Wellbeing Programme since 2005