UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


A New Measure of Prosperity

10 March 2021

The Institute for Global Prosperity calls for a new measure of prosperity as the focal point of ‘levelling up’ and post-Covid planning which the Budget 2021 failed to do, by instead placing jobs at the top of the recovery.

Women talking in East London

For far too long, policy-makers have resorted to GDP, economic growth and productivity as the measures of success for the UK economy. However, rising structural inequalities, in-work poverty and job precariousness challenge the notion that economic growth should be the measure of a good and prosperous life. The Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) would like to refocus the attention on what supports prosperity and what makes life worth living.

Through its research in East London, Lebanon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Cuba, the IGP has uniquely developed and created citizen-led prosperity indices that identify these factors, with our studies finding that prosperity is much more than economic growth. More specifically, the foundation for a prosperous life from our East London study are: a good quality of life, secure livelihoods, access to key public services, good quality and genuinely affordable homes and a sense of inclusion and belonging in the economic and social life of a city. Prosperity is also about having: clean air, water and adequate nutrition, access to education, a role and a voice in society, rights and freedoms to shape the choices and decisions that affect people’s lives. The outcome of our research is a new Prosperity Index (PI) that measures what really influences prosperity for local communities.

The PI is a new way to map out pathways and policies but also crucially informs us of the challenges that people face, with livelihood security being the current number one challenge and a critical determinant of prosperity for local communities. Secure livelihoods are much broader than income or wealth, it is a combination of the above factors that lead to a prosperous life, interconnecting in complex ways and intersecting across dimensions such as class, race, and identity. These interactions have been successively ignored in wider policy-making frameworks, the IGP is calling for a rethink to address this ‘democratic deficit’ by bringing people into policy-making to reflect the lived experiences of people and local communities.

Generally, most indicators and metrics are decided by experts in government, universities, or business, and assumed to be relevant to communities everywhere. The PI is unique in this regard, as it is based on extensive research carried out by Citizen Scientists, which involves training local residents living and working in their respective communities to work as social researchers. Local perspectives are important to ascertain the subjective meaning of prosperity which is also about the individual and collective ideas and aspirations that people have for the future, as well as the everyday conditions that shape quality of life, which are heavily influenced by, environmental and economic conditions, social and cultural values, policy frameworks and historical legacies.

The IGP believes fundamentally that citizens and communities should be at the centre of efforts to reimagine prosperity, to co-produce evidence to design pathways to inclusive and shared prosperity. Expanding citizen-led prosperity indices across the UK would be the first step to achieving this.