COMMONS

Natural Capital Committee needs to be made permanent

05 June 2014

The Government’s ‘Natural Capital Committee’, set up to check how far the Government bases its policies on the cost and benefits the UK derives from its natural environment — such as clean air, water, food and recreation — should be put on a permanent statutory footing, the Environmental Audit Committee recommends.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:

"Improving the quality of life in the UK for us and for future generations will depend on how well we measure social well-being and the free environmental services we all rely on to live – like pollination, fresh water and clean air. It is important that the momentum behind the Natural Capital Committee’s (NCC) work is maintained. With its current remit finishing at the time of the General Election, there is a risk that the required longer term changes it identifies will be overlooked. The Government should signal its continuing commitment to the NCC and its work by putting it on a long-term statutory footing and by responding formally to the NCC’s annual reports, starting immediately with its latest March 2014 report. I would like to see that Government response accepting the NCC’s key recommendation for a 25 year plan for improving natural capital."

Background

The NCC was set up in May 2012 with a three-year remit that ends just before the General Election. It has produced two progress reports so far, highlighting gaps in the available data on these factors and calling for a 25-year plan to plug the gaps and start using the information in Government decisions. But the Government has yet to respond in detail to those NCC reports.

Well-being

The environment is just one strand of a wider view of people’s well-being, which also addresses people’s economic and social circumstances, as well as their view of the satisfaction they get from their lives. In November 2010, the Prime Minister launched a programme to measure well-being to complement economic statistics like ‘GDP’ in “measuring our progress as a country”.

However, more than three years since then, the Committee note, our quality of life is not yet receiving the same attention as those economic metrics. The Committee highlight the links being uncovered in the statistics between people’s view of their well-being and their background and circumstances — for example the link between well-being and people’s health, marital status or religion. But the MPs warn that the data are not yet sufficiently robust to support a single metric that could encompass well-being and which could be set alongside GDP.

Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:

"The Government-commissioned work on ‘subjective well-being’ is producing valuable new insights into our society, showing not just the state of citizens’ life-satisfaction or anxiety but also how well that correlates to their particular circumstances or where they live. The data will be at the heart of the debate on inequality in our society.

The Government should start using the already available data to ‘wellbeing-proof’ existing policies. And it needs to start planning now for how the statistics should be used proactively to identify new policies. Without that essential step, the number-crunching will be just interesting, when it could actually be helping to reshape Government policies for the better."

Further information

The Committee’s report examines the first two reports from the Natural Capital Committee:

The Committee also highlights the analyses from:

Office for National Statistics on well-being, in terms of the correlations with people’s background and circumstances:

and how well-being scores vary by local authority:

Image: iStockphoto

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