Understanding Well-being Data

chapter 7 Evidencing Culture for Policy

Policy spending on culture as good for society

Wellbeing evidence can help policymakers to assess the impact of arts subsidy on wellbeing inequalities, and thus to ensure that the benefits of this spending are spread to those with lower wellbeing, including disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.

(Berry 2014, 36)

The quote above is taken from a 2014 report that was written to the All-Party Parliamentary Group((All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal groups organised to investigate particular issues that might cut across government departments and involve members from different political parties.)) on Wellbeing Economics. The report addressed what it called ‘four policy areas’ that the authors labelled: Building a high well-being economy: Labour market policy; Building high well-being places: Planning and transport policy; Building personal resources: Mindfulness in health and education; Valuing what matters: Arts and culture policy. It may strike you that these ‘policy areas’ seem quite different from what we have seen before—particularly in the discussion on well-being indicators and policy domains (see Chap. 3). Putting planning and transport together, for example, and foregrounding work in the economy (rather than just the financial stuff). Of course, here, we will be looking at the fact that ‘arts and culture policy’ is called ‘valuing what matters’—recalling what we talked about in Chap. 6 and those before it, we might want to ask who is valuing what matters—and what matters to who?

On this point of what matters to who, the report advocates assessing and ensuring whether ‘benefits are spread to those with lowest well-being’ (cited above). Framing this statement in this way is interesting, as it seems to acknowledge that well-being (or, how different things impact on well-being) is not experienced universally. Notably, some argue that it is easier to improve the well-being of those with better well-being first1,((You may remember in Chap. 4, we touched on the arguments against the Greatest Happiness principle and the introduction of the idea of a Utility Monster.)) while, of course, the Easterlin paradox implies that it is easier to improve the lives of those who are poorer using money than it is those with higher incomes (see Chap. 4 for this discussion). As you can see, the relationship between money, identifying need and improving well-being is less clear-cut than we may be led to believe.

The report does not explicitly state that policy spend does not evenly impact on people’s well-being, citing evidence, so that it is clear this is a danger we should mitigate against. Instead it says we should assess whether it does. Its recommendations state that government should ‘seek to ensure that the benefits of arts spending reach those with the lowest wellbeing, including communities with high deprivation’. This is an important point that is often glossed over. In cultural policy, it is now acknowledged that the most privileged tend to consume the most culture, they therefore benefit most as a group from the largest subsidies2. The intersection of well-being and inequalities and arts spending is more complex, and one deserving of its own book. However, it seems that investigating policy spending on the arts for well-being is an issue of empirical and moral concern.

  1. Oakley et al. 2013, 23 []
  2. Neelands et al. 2015; Taylor 2016; Belfiore 2016 []