Measuring Quality of Life in Ireland Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to confer functions on the Central Statistics Office and the National Economic and Social Council in relation to the publication of indices, to be known as Genuine Progress Indicators, designed to take fuller account of the quality of life and well-being of the community by incorporating environmental and social factors, in relation to the publication of National Distributional Accounts that aim to measure the distribution of national income and economic growth and in relation to an annual report on the impact of the Budget on economic and social inequality, poverty reduction and income and wealth redistribution; and to provide for related matters.

I thank colleagues for providing the opportunity to present this important Bill. The Covid-19 crisis has served as a rare opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate what really matters. The pandemic has proven that we have, for far too long, put far too much emphasis on a set of narrow economic metrics at the expense of the well-being of our people, the quality of our lived environment and the strength of our social capital. This must now change. With favourable international borrowing conditions, now is the time to be ambitious for our country and deliver a new social contract, as the Labour Party has been calling for for some time. With such funds available as we saw in budget 2021, delivering on our cherished dream of a fair and equal Ireland is, for the first time in our history, within our grasp. This once in a generation opportunity should not be squandered and our resources must be spent to maximise the well-being of all our people. The measures in this Bill will help us to do just that.

This Bill is not about abandoning the traditional economic indicators of GDP or the new hybrid model, GNI*. However, we must recognise the fundamental shortcomings of these measures if used in isolation as has been the case so far. For example, if a factory creates pollution but contributes to economic growth, it is measured as a good thing. If one spends money fixing the pollution caused by the factory, that is further economic growth, which is measured as a good thing. However, in reality, we all know that is bizarre. The economist Simon Kuznets created the concept of GDP in 1934 when he developed it as a tool to measure economic growth. At the time, he wrote to the US Congress, stating, "The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income". He also said:

Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between its costs and return, and between the short and the long term. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what.

Those are the questions we must ask. What do we want to grow and what do we really value? Since 2016, we have had a Government which placed economic growth above all else. Economic growth was an end in itself. In the Government's eyes, the economy may have been working, but it was certainly not working for ordinary people. Far too many felt left behind, without hope and simply running to a standstill. They could not afford decent housing, healthcare or childcare. We have to start measuring these issues because they are just as important as any economic growth statistic and a vital part of the social contract between the State and its citizens.

This Bill seeks to address two deficiencies in our national statistics. The first relates to our lack of genuine progress indicators and the second is the lack of national distributional accounts, a set of accounts which measures the distribution of economic growth between different income earners both before and, importantly, after tax.

Specifically, it will confer functions on the Central Statistics Office and on the National Economic and Social Council as to the publication of indices to be known as a genuine progress indicators. This will empower both organisations to take a fuller account of the quality of life and well-being of the community by incorporating environmental, social and other economic factors that are not otherwise measured. In addition, the publication of national distributional accounts under this proposed legislation will ensure that both income and wealth inequality are reported upon so as to close the gap between the have-littles and the have-lots.

As we approach a century since founding the State, this important Bill will allow us to chart a new course for our country, create new social contract for all of our citizens and ensure that we finally cherish all of the children of the nation equally. If we are to learn the lessons of this pandemic and shape the future in a meaningful way, then we will need new quality-of-life measures as outlined in this Bill. It is clear as a society that we manage what we measure and now we must begin to measure what really matters. I heartily recommend this Bill to the House and I hope other Members will give it their support when we have the opportunity to debate it on Second Stage.

Is the Bill being opposed.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.