A leading group of academics from LSE, including former Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell, have today published a report which concludes that the Government’s response to Covid has “been dictated by concerns for lives lost from COVID-19, which represent far too narrow a focus for a full impact assessment.”

Coronavirus, Lockdown and Wellbeing: LSE’s Prof Paul Dolan in Conversation with Steve Baker MP

“Shaping the post-Covid World: Moving towards wellbeing over the lifetime as the unit of analysis in policy” (link below) says that “any policy intervention requires us to capture and quantify all its possible short and long-term ripple effects, and not simply the most immediate and obvious splash it creates.”

The authors highlight “established methods” such as “[i]n the appraisal of health interventions, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) have been developed to express the value of changes in quality and quantity of life in a single index.”

The authors further suggest:

  • that “decision-making must urgently involve a greater diversity of professional perspective and personal experience” as “public officials can never be completely cleansed of self-interest and bias”;
  • that to better prepare for future crises, we must “actively encourage criticism and critique. In so doing, we will be better placed to avoid the pitfalls of group think”;
  • “The government should be required to be more transparent about the data it is using to inform its decisions, and from whom it is seeking advice. Part of this transparency aim should be to place any numbers in context. In the case of COVID-19, most national leaders have based all their statements on COVID-19 cases and deaths, ignoring basic comparisons with common illnesses and other causes of death”; and
  • “There has been much discussion of fake news, but much less consideration given to ‘distorted news’. We need more and higher quality discussion of when the media should be used to assist in government information programmes, and when it should challenge them.”

The authors also recommend that the government should create a wellbeing impacts agency and a wellbeing commission to enable policymakers to consider citizens’ wellbeing and quality of life in future:

“Against this background, we propose setting up a scientific wellbeing impacts agency. This body will seek to bring together experts from a range of disciplines who have in-depth knowledge of various data sources across policy areas.”

“The foregoing discussion highlighted the importance of processes as well as outcomes, and so a separate wellbeing commission should be established comprising different voices, including those from advocacy groups e.g. such as those involved in palliative care.”

Professor Paul Dolan said:

“Whatever shape the post-Covid world takes, we must ensure that mechanisms are in place to ensure that future policy interventions by Government take into account citizens’ wellbeing over their entire lifetimes, in addition to the short term costs and benefits of any particular measure. I look forward to working with policy makers and ministers to learn the lessons of the past and to strengthen our democratic mechanisms for the future.”

Steve Baker MP, deputy chair of the CRG, said:

“Cycles of lockdowns and restrictions have had appalling consequences for people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods, so I welcome this timely work illustrating the trade offs involved in making good policy. Policy must always look at longer term impacts on everyone as well as short term consequences on specific groups. Scientific advice to Government will be much improved if it is multi-disciplinary, transparent and open to ‘red team’ challenge at every stage.

“Ministers, scientists and the media are all doing their jobs in what are the most trying of circumstances. But if we are truly to reclaim our lives once and for all, we must act now to put in place checks and balances to ensure that our democracy, our institutions and our pandemic handling capability are in much better shape for the future.”

The full report can be found through https://www.lse.ac.uk/PBS/assets/documents/SPCW-WELLBEING-FINAL.pdf.

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