British PM unveils 'happiness index'
British Prime Minister David Cameron defended Thursday a new index aimed at measuring the population's social and environmental wellbeing rather than just its wealth.
Cameron denied the scheme was "airy-fairy and impractical" and rejected criticisms that it was a smokescreen for harsh austerity measures introduced recently by his coalition government.
"From April next year we will start measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving, not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life," he said.
"If I thought this was woolly and insubstantial, I wouldn't be bothering with it."
French president Nicolas Sarkozy last year set up an expert commission which recommended a move away from indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) to one based on people's wellbeing.
The idea of replacing GDP was pioneered by the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
Starting in the 1970s, the then-monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuck promoted "Gross National Happiness" as the goal of development rather than gross domestic product.
Canada is investigating the viability of a similar initiative.
In Britain, however, the wellbeing index will have to deal with the awkward issue of cuts announced in October which are set to cost almost half a million jobs, slash government budgets by a fifth and prune the welfare state.
Student protesters angered by a planned increase in university tuition fees damaged government ministries and a police van in London on Wednesday.
Unite, Britain's biggest trade union, said the "so-called happiness index will just be another attempt by the coalition to pull the wool over people's eyes."
"All the essential elements which make people happy and secure are fair game for the chop by this coalition government," said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.
© 2010 AFP