OECD Secretary-General

Putting Well-being Metrics into Policy Action – an international workshop


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

2 October 2019 - Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery)



Your Excellency Ohood Al Roumi, State Secretary Saila Ruuth, Minister Maria Revelo, Cabinet Secretary Derek Mackay, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

It is my honour to welcome you here this morning. Well-being lies at the heart of the OECD’s mission. This workshop will give us a unique opportunity to take stock of our efforts to place well-being at the centre of our metrics and our policies.


Well-being is at a crossroads

The OECD has been monitoring well-being in our member countries through a dashboard of indicators for almost ten years. These measures highlight numerous challenges and indicate that it is high time to move from measurement to action.

Today, around 40% of the population in OECD countries are “economically vulnerable”. This means they would be at risk of falling into poverty if they had to forgo 3 months of their income. Economic inequalities have been widening for over 30 years, to the point where higher GDP growth fails to translate into higher living standards not only for the poor but also for large parts of the middle class.

Since 2005, both long-term unemployment, and labour-market insecurity have increased in many OECD countries. Young people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than those aged over 25, and quality jobs paying decent wages and adequate working conditions are harder to find. Gender divides are still wide, with pay gaps only marginally diminishing in the last five years or so and women being massively under-represented in public life.

Average life satisfaction has fallen by 3%, and mental disorders account for one of the largest and fastest growing categories of the burden of disease, with one in every two people experiencing a mental illness in their lifetime. Fewer people say they have friends and family to count on in times of need.

Only one-third of people in OECD countries feel that they have a say in what the government does. Fewer people are turning up to vote, and trust in government has fallen in nearly half of all OECD countries since 2005.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are creating immense consequences for our well-being in the longer run. Carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise again, reaching unprecedented levels in 2018. We are paying a heavy price for air pollution in terms of our health with around 60% of the population in OECD countries exposed to air pollution above WHO recommended levels.

It’s time to rethink how governments make policy, moving away from pursuing economic growth, towards people-focused policies that promote well-being and sustainable development.


The OECD is turning metrics into action

At the OECD we have been adapting our tools and advice in order to place a greater emphasis on the well-being approach and tackle these challenges.

We have made great strides on the measurement side and are well past the point where a lack of data is a sufficient excuse. We now need to act. We need new analytical tools and institutional frameworks that foster a more coherent, whole-of-government integrated approach. This is precisely what our work has been focusing on.

Building on the well-being framework, our Inclusive Growth initiative analysed how growth can be a mechanism for reducing inequalities and poverty and for generating well-being for all. This led us to the Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth that provides a platform to catalyse three key sets of dynamics: investing in people and places left behind; supporting business dynamism and inclusive labour markets; building responsive and more efficient government and making policy-making more inclusive. We are now rolling out the Framework through country case studies, for instance in Korea, where we are supporting President Moon-Jae’s agenda on inclusive growth.

In addition, the Development Centre’s Multi-dimensional Country Reviews (MDCRs) use both our well-being framework and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to assess where countries stand today, and to identify key development challenges and opportunities.

We are also working to upgrade our growth and reform assessment framework, that underpins our flagship Going for Growth, by drawing from research on well-being, inequalities and climate change mitigation.

And just last month, I launched our report Accelerating Climate Action: Refocusing Policies through a Well-being Lens which, by seeking out the “win-wins” for people and planet, can galvanise both political and social support for more ambitious climate mitigation.


National policies are adopting a well-being lens

We are encouraged to see that many governments are rising to the challenge of placing well-being at the front and centre of their policies. We will be hearing at this workshop first-hand about these invaluable national experiences can feed into our work.

For example: New Zealand’s Well-being Budget, its Public Finance Act reforms and Child Well-being Strategy; France’s and Italy’s well-being Indicators and their use in the budget process; Ireland’s approach to Equality Budgeting; the UK’s What Works Centre for Well-being, and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Well-being Economics; Scotland’s National Performance Framework; and the UAE’s Minister for Happiness and Well-being will be outlining her National Well-being Strategy 2031.

And last but not least, Finland’s Economy of Well-being, a powerful framing of their EU Presidency, to which we have contributed with a special report that outlined the virtuous circle between investing in people’s well-being, economic prosperity and social stability. The Economy of Well-Being calls on governments to expand the access to quality early child care and education and health for all, as well as to affordable housing; to mainstream gender equality but also to strengthen social protection, renew social dialogue for inclusive labour markets and govern effectively and inclusively.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the Economics Nobel Prize Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz said: “What we measure affects what we do. If we focus only on material well-being – on, say, the production of goods, rather than on health, education, and the environment – we become distorted in the same way that these measures are distorted; we become more materialistic.”

Let’s shine a light on well-being metrics, let’s make sure they are taken into account when we build our policy advice. If we do not embed the well-being approach more broadly, we will miss a transformative opportunity.

As you forge ahead, the OECD stands ready to work with and for you to design, develop and deliver Better Well-Being Policies for Better Lives.
Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Statistics


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