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CAFOD Human Flourishing Poll

A public opinion poll on behalf of CAFOD.

Date Published: 10 Oct 2010

Categories: Public and communities | Social | Third Sector | UK


Environment and world poverty are priorities survey shows, as new report into wellbeing is released

More than half of Britons believe helping others in the UK and abroad is important to achieving happiness, a new ComRes poll has revealed.

On the eve of a new report into human wellbeing, the survey found that 75% of those asked believe helping people in the UK is key to happiness, with 54% citing helping those abroad as important to happiness. Nearly 90% of people said that living in a world where the environment is protected and where poverty does not exist is important.

The poll, by aid agencies CAFOD and Tearfund, and think-tank Theos, asked British adults to identify what makes them happy. The top priority for 97% of people was spending time with friends and family, while having an interesting job was important for 92%.  A high income was a much lower priority at 64%.

Tearfund chief executive Matthew Frost said: “It’s interesting that in this time of economic uncertainty, when we might have expected people to prioritise income over all else, we have instead found that people look outwards to the state of the environment, world poverty and personal relationships with others as their measures of happiness.

“It is hugely important to people to enjoy interesting and productive work, and to have healthy relationships and friendships – people measure happiness by what they give to others and what they gain in return. Of course a level of financial equilibrium is essential, but it’s clear that British people recognise that the people in our lives come first.”

New report Wholly Living is released on October 13 by Catholic aid agency CAFOD, Christian relief and development agency Tearfund and the public theology think-tank Theos. The report examines human wellbeing in the context of both the UK and international development and for those of all faiths and none, and the UK government, to enter the debate on how best to create an environment in which to engender human flourishing. Examples taken from the UK and developing world indicate that people are most fulfilled when they are productive, creative and have strong relationships with others.

CAFOD director Chris Bain said: ”Society is more than its economy and this new report shows that human beings, whether in rich or poor countries, thrive when they have more than just material goods. Real happiness is difficult to define and is different for different peoples and cultures, but what is clear is that community and our caring inter-relationships with both people and our environment are vital for well-being.

“It is time for the UK government to reflect this vision in its policy decisions to shape a new sustainable market system that puts people and our environment right at its heart. The present economic downturn has been catastrophic for many of the poorest across the world and in the UK. We must not make the same mistakes again – patching the tears in this self-centred market system will lead to wider devastation and bigger financial losses when the next crash comes.”

Wholly Living calls for a holistic approach that recognises the role of economic growth as an important – but not the only - driver towards human fulfilment. It argues that people flourish most when they are able to fulfil their potential and live in healthy relationships with others.  Drawing on academic and theological understandings of flourishing, it calls for the UK government to consider a range of policy ideas in the areas of economics, environment and governance. In particular, it calls for:

• A high profile Prime Ministerial Commission to look at wellbeing (human flourishing) to review current research in this area, consider how to apply a human flourishing approach to policy decisions and to assess potential new indicators for measuring progress – a Human Flourishing Index.
• Deployment of economic policy to encourage human flourishing, for example, developing a fairer taxation system which benefits the many and not the few, and ensuring developing countries have fair access to new markets through trade agreements.
• Support the sustainable economic activities of the world’s poorest people through ensuring investment in health, agricultural, physical and financial infrastructure.
• Ensuring accountability and transparency of British businesses operating worldwide through appropriate legislation.

The report is the product of a year-long research project into what constitutes human flourishing. Wholly Living aims to bring the inadequacy of traditional indices of development to the heart of public debate, in order that the practical implications for UK policy may be considered. While policy, both domestic and international, cannot make people more productive, creative or relational, its strategic implementation removes obstacles and facilitates a shift in attitude.

While the theory of human flourishing outlined in Wholly Living draws on a Christian understanding of humanity, the resulting recommendations are intended to be relevant to everyone.

The poll, carried out by ComRes in September 2010 asked a representative sample of 2,008 British adults ‘how important, or otherwise, do you think each of the following is in achieving happiness in life?’

People were asked to state how important or otherwise various aspects of life are in achieving happiness.  These are the percentage figures of people who described each of the things as being either fairly or very important in achieving happiness in life.

Things that are important in achieving happiness %
Spending time with friends and family   97
Having an interesting job     92
Being in a relationship     87
Hobbies or sport      85
Going on holiday      80
Helping other people in Britain    75
Having a high income     64
Helping people in other parts of the world  54
Donating to charity      53

The poll also asked ‘how important or otherwise are each of the following to you personally?’

Very/Fairly Important       %
Living in a world where people’s
rights and choices are respected    97
Living in a world where the
environment is protected     91 
Living in a world where everyone
has equal opportunities     91
Living in a world where poverty doesn’t exist   89

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