A new economic indicator that tracks people’s leisure time should be introduced to challenge the dominance of GDP, according to the Green Party. [1]

At the organisation’s recent Autumn Conference, co-leader Sian Berry said: “It’s time to shift away from the culture which sees us work harder and harder for longer and longer, often without reward or satisfaction. And to recognise that true freedom will only be found when people have more control of their time and how it is spent. That is why Greens want the next Budget – and every future Budget – to include a new economic indicator that measures people’s leisure time.”

Co-leader Jonathan Bartley explained: “The Free Time Index would count the hours people are not at work – or doing work on a long commute. The time [for people] to have a family life, relax, and pursue the things they care about. It should be an aim of the government to see a yearly increase in this Free Time Index, so that the quality of time which is truly our own becomes the real measure of wellbeing.”

However, speaking to BBC News, [2] Institute of Economic Affairs research fellow Len Shackleton said: “GDP is not the only measure of how well the country is doing, but it is the most useful for comparisons with other countries and with the UK over time. We have regular time-use surveys which could be used to create something like what the Greens want. But what would it show, really?”

On a cautionary note, he pointed out: “People might have more time to spend with their families if unemployment rose dramatically. There are different perspectives within the family. Using GDP as our prime indicator cannot deal with these concerns – but nor can any other simple measure.”

Are the Greens on to something, or does their idea lack rigour?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “There is a certain allure for leaders in measuring that which can be measured, but that can lead one of two ways. Either there’s an urge to amplify the status of a particular subject in which the leader has a personal interest – or a tendency to leave out altogether subjects that are more difficult to measure. It is widely known among leaders that GDP is not an ideal measure, because of the things that it leaves out. Indeed, only last week it emerged that the monetary value of housework in the UK exceeds £1 trillion, [3] and that won’t even make a blip on GDP’s screen – it’s simply not a factor.”

Cooper agrees with Shackleton’s view that, no simple measure is ever fully comprehensive. “The drive for simplicity, accessibility and understanding in data has become so important,” she explains. “That’s why the annual publication of gender pay gap figures has become such a huge moment in the organisational calendar: it is easy for people to grasp the statistics, and what they mean.

“In that sense, the Greens do have a point, because factors such as wellbeing and happiness could well be similarly quantifiable. The same goes for how much we as a nation are spending on health. How much of that spending is dedicated to preventative courses of action, and how much is more related to fixing ourselves because we’ve been negligent?”

Cooper adds: “as seductive as a simple measure is, it’s will never be enough to tell you everything you need to know. If you are avoiding things that are difficult to measure for the very reason that they’re difficult to measure then, by default, they’re sure to require greater attention and focus. Any suggestion of different measures that can be used in a holistic and complementary fashion can only be constructive if you want to enrich your big-picture view of your chosen subject with a greater level of detail.”

For further thoughts on time management, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Source refs: [1] [2] [3]

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