At the request of the House of Representatives, in 2017 the Dutch government asked CBS to develop a Monitor of Well-being for the Accountability Debate in May. CBS fulfilled the request and the first Monitor was published in May 2018. The second edition, published in May 2019, included the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which was also being done by CBS. This has major advantages in that both frameworks cover the same field in terms of content and policy. While the approach related to well-being expresses a general aim (well-being that is inclusive and sustainable ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’), it is translated into specific targets in the SDG agenda. This gives policy-makers practical guidance. The two agendas can therefore reinforce each other considerably. The publication is now in its fourth edition and, based on evaluations of the previous editions, has been supplemented and improved in a number of respects.
The aim of the Monitor is to provide politicians and society with information on the development of well-being in the Netherlands, and on the state of affairs in relation to the SDGs. The goals of this United Nations (UN) sustainability agenda must be achieved by 2030. This Monitor is based on a structured set of indicators, grouped in dashboards, for which the medium-term trend and the Netherlands’ position in the European Union (EU) is monitored. This shows whether indicators are moving in a direction that increases well-being or whether they are actually moving further away from the goal. It is up to politicians and society to use this information to make choices and set priorities, where they deem these necessary.
1.1Purpose of the publication
This publication primarily describes the development of well-being and the SDGs in the Netherlands over the medium term, based on data for 2013–2020. For many indicators an initial figure for 2020 has already been included, in some cases one specially estimated for this Monitor. With the emergence of COVID-19 and the major impact of the associated measures on the Dutch economy and society, 2020 was an exceptional year. This publication will therefore focus somewhat more on developments in the past year than previous editions. The main focus nevertheless remains on developments in the medium term. The concept of well-being is of great significance when we consider the societal challenges the Netherlands is currently facing. More than ever before, many factors that determine quality of life are being brought into decision-making. This shows that the concept of well-being and the achievement of the SDGs are more relevant than ever.
More than in the past, this fourth Monitor builds a bridge between the ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’ perspectives in Chapter 2 and policy practice as set out on the basis of the SDGs in Chapter 4. Well-being is defined as our current quality of life and the extent to which it is achieved and maintained at the expense of the generations that will follow us or of people in other parts of the world. The emphasis is on the well-being of individual citizens, but this edition of the Monitor also takes the first steps in assessing the sustainability of well-being (resilience). This concerns the robustness and resilience of society as a whole and its ability to absorb future exogenous shocks. Future editions will look further into the sustainability of well-being, including, for example, the sustainability of systems (such as health care and pensions) and the resilience of businesses.
Chapter 2 first describes the well-being of the inhabitants of the Netherlands ‘here and now’. It then outlines the consequences of our current level of well-being for the well-being of future generations in the Netherlands and of people in other countries. The chapter ends with a reflection on the robustness of society and its resilience to future exogenous shocks.
Chapter 3 adds details on the way in which well-being ‘here and now’ is distributed among various population groups. A lot of attention is devoted to recent changes.
Chapter 4 of the Monitor focuses on the SDGs. The SDGs can be seen as internationally agreed objectives in the area of well-being and the sustainability of this well-being over the longer term. For each SDG, the Monitor looks at the efforts made to achieve that goal, the results obtained to date and people’s perceptions in relation to the theme. Chapter 4 also makes an initial assessment of where synergies, trade-offs and cross-links lie between policy areas and SDGs.
This introduction now considers the international recommendations and agreements on which the presentation of well-being and the SDGs in this Monitor is based. It will then examine in detail the definition used for well-being and the chosen subdivision of well-being into themes. Lastly, the chapter will explore the operationalisation of the Monitor of Well-being, i.e. the actual measurement of the various themes linked to well-being and the SDGs based on selected sets of indicators.
The Monitor has been compiled on the recommendation of the Dutch House of Representatives’ Temporary Committee on a Broad Definition of Welfare, in accordance with the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) Recommendations on Measuring Sustainable Development (UNECE, 2014). The CES measuring system is an international guideline for measuring well-being and sustainability. Here, ‘sustainable’ means that well-being here and now is not at the expense of the well-being of later generations or of that of people in other parts of the world.
Using the CES measuring system, statistical agencies have developed a scientifically substantiated ‘common language’ to define and describe well-being. The CES measuring system is based on the report by Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi (2009) and the scientific insights underpinning the report. The CES recommendations have been endorsed by around 65 countries. Statistical agencies and international organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are now implementing the recommendations around the world. The measurement of well-being based on the recommendations serves to support policy and the political sphere, yet without giving direction.
The CES measuring system draws a distinction between well-being ‘here and now’ and well-being ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’. The themes that are measured for ‘here and now’ are determined on the basis of national and international literature, as well as surveys asking citizens which topics they consider important for their quality of life. The question is to what extent the pursuit of well-being in the Netherlands currently has an impact on the well-being of future generations (‘later’) and of people elsewhere in the world (‘elsewhere’).
In the Monitor, the SDGs are integrated into this CES measuring system. The SDGs were drawn up by the UN in 2015 and signed by 193 countries (UN, 2015). The SDGs are well aligned with the pursuit of well-being. Underlying principles of the SDG agenda, such as the key principle of ‘leave no one behind’, the attention devoted to our carbon footprint and the five Ps (people, planet, peace, prosperity & partnership), are all highly relevant to our quality of life and ensuring that this quality of life is future-proof.
1.3Definition of well-being
The definition used in the Monitor is in line with common international definitions and is as follows:
Well-being is the quality of life here and now and the extent to which it is at the expense of the quality of life of future generations and/or of people elsewhere in the world.
Based on these three dimensions of well-being, three dashboards have been developed in this Monitor:
- well-being ‘here and now’
- well-being ‘later’
- well-being ‘elsewhere’
Well-being ‘here and now’
Well-being ‘here and now’ concerns the personal characteristics of people and the quality of the environment in which they live; more generally, it relates to their material well-being and general well-being, and how they perceive these. As well-being is a broad concept, the ‘here and now’ dashboard contains details of a large number of individual themes. Each theme then uses specific indicators to illustrate the developments within the theme.
The eight main themes related to well-being ‘here and now’ are:
- Subjective well-being. Personal well-being is central to reflections on well-being in a broad sense. Subjective well-being is defined here as the way a person values their life. It is measured by means of the degree to which people are satisfied with their lives, the extent to which they feel they have control over their lives and the Personal Well-being Index. The Personal Well-being Index combines eight aspects of life to obtain one overall figure.
- Material well-being. Material well-being is made up of the disposable income that people have, together with the goods and services that they can buy with that income and with which they can add fulfilment and colour to their lives.
- Health. Health – both actual and perceived – is a key determinant of quality of life. A chronic illness can restrict a person’s ability to participate fully and actively in society for example. Quality of life is also determined to a great extent by nutrition and whether a person has a healthy diet. One of the biggest problems in this context is the overweight population.
- Labour and leisure time. For many people, well-being depends greatly on having appropriate paid employment. On the other hand, leisure time also has a major influence on people’s perceived quality of life. A balance therefore needs to be struck between labour and leisure time. Many factors are important in this regard. For example, a good education is important for a person to have good prospects in the job market.
- Housing. Decent and affordable accommodation is one of our basic needs. The Dutch spend a substantial part of their income on housing.
- Society. A society in which everyone can participate and in which people can trust one another and trust institutions such as the government and the legal system is also part of well-being. The number and quality of social contacts and hence the degree to which people participate in social life are important aspects of well-being.
- Safety. Crime and perceived safety – or the lack of it – have a direct impact on quality of life. Both the actual risk of being a victim and the feeling of safety or a lack of safety have an effect.
- The environment. Clean air, clean drinking water and surface water, sufficient healthy natural spaces and biodiversity, and uncontaminated soil are key basic needs. High concentrations of particulate matter in the air can lead to serious health problems, such as asthma and COPD. In a densely populated country such as the Netherlands, it is also important for certain areas to be primarily left natural, so that flora and fauna can survive and thrive.
Well-being ‘later’ refers to the resources that future generations need in order to achieve the same level of well-being as the current generation. The choices that the Dutch make collectively ‘here and now’ naturally have consequences for the future generations in the Netherlands. All manner of resources are needed to maintain quality of life. These are referred to here as ‘capital’, which is broken down into four types: economic, natural, human and social. The amount of capital per capita must at least stay the same if future generations are to achieve the same level of well-being.
The four types of capital for well-being ‘later’ are:
- Economic capital. This comprises the machinery and tools, ICT, knowledge capital and infrastructure that are necessary to create material well-being and generate economic growth. These are physical capital goods that are mainly important for the economic process. Knowledge capital, sustained in part by investment in research and development, is also important in order for the Dutch economy to function. Debt is considered to be negative economic capital.
- Natural capital. This refers not only to raw materials (in the case of the Netherlands mainly fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas), but also to the quality of nature and the environment. This includes biodiversity (measured on the basis of land fauna and fresh water and marsh fauna, which are standards for species diversity), the general quality of the atmosphere (linked to CO2 emissions) and the quality of soil, water and air in the local area. Natural capital also includes the capacity for renewable forms of energy, because it can counter the use of non-renewable energy sources as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Natural capital is a basic necessity for life.
- Human capital. The ‘labour’ factor is central to this theme. It comprises the number of hours that people work, as well as the quality of the labour potential measured in terms of health and education level. These aspects also play a part in determining the productivity of labour.
- Social capital. This represents the quality of social connections in society. It is measured as the extent of the trust that citizens have in one another and in the most important institutions. In addition to the trust felt by all citizens, trust between various different groups is also examined using an indicator for feelings of discrimination. This describes the extent to which people feel part of specific groups in society that have the perception of not being able to participate fully in the social process or of not being fully accepted as they are.
Well-being ‘elsewhere’ concerns the effects of choices made in the Netherlands on jobs, income, resources (renewable and non-renewable) and the environment in other countries. Many choices that the Dutch make have consequences for people elsewhere. After all, the goods and services imported into the Netherlands have been produced elsewhere. This generates jobs and income in these countries, but also puts pressure on renewable and non-renewable resources and the environment there. Following the example of the report of the Brundtland Commission (WCED, 1987), the Monitor devotes particular attention to the world’s poorest countries. This group is represented here by the 47 poorest countries based on UN criteria, referred to as the ‘least developed countries’ (LDCs).
Two key themes in relation to well-being ‘elsewhere’ are trade and aid. These have been combined in this Monitor:
- Trade. The trade conducted between the Netherlands and other countries can increase well-being in those countries. The continents from which imports are sourced, namely Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, are detailed separately.
- Development cooperation and remittances. Development aid that the Netherlands provides for developing countries can increase well-being in those countries. The same applies to money that migrants transfer to family members in their country of origin. It should be noted that these remittances do not necessarily lead to greater well-being, because the way in which the money is spent does not necessarily benefit the well-being of society as a whole.
The other main theme related to well-being ‘elsewhere’ is ‘environment and resources’:
- Environment and resources. Non-renewable resources are imported and used in the Netherlands or elsewhere to produce goods and services. This consumption leads to the depletion of these resources abroad, which has a major impact on well-being – now or later – particularly in the poorest countries. Goods and services imported from other countries are produced elsewhere. This production may be associated with CO2 emissions, for example, which are then directly related to Dutch consumption and hence one of the factors determining our GHG footprint.
1.4Measuring well-being and the SDGs
This Monitor presents a structured set of indicators, ranked within the three dimensions and their underlying themes. The overall picture of the state of affairs and development of well-being results from the combination of all these indicators.
The integration of the systems for measuring well-being (CES framework) with the monitoring of the SDGs in a single publication has major advantages. Both concepts cover the same field in terms of content and policy: the goal of a world that is sustainable – or more sustainable – and how to achieve it. While the approach related to well-being expresses a general aim (well-being that is inclusive and sustainable ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’), it is translated into specific goals in the SDG agenda. This gives policy-makers more practical guidance. The many positive reactions from society and government to the work of CBS clearly shows that the two agendas are mutually reinforcing and that the link between well-being and SDGs is relevant to many people’s work.
Linking the well-being framework to the SDGs has also helped to translate the SDG agenda in a more specific and practical way to the Dutch context. The well-being indicators make key underlying principles of the SDG agenda clearer and more comprehensible, even if they are difficult to measure. The main concern here is the aim of the SDG agenda to achieve a balance, providing well-being for people ‘here and now’ and people ‘elsewhere’, as well as carefully considering the interests of future generations (‘later’). The integration of the two measuring systems also helps to identify and document progress better in the various policy areas thanks to the specific goals set by the SDGs.
Lastly, the well-being indicators in the ‘here and now’ dashboard show clearly whether individuals or groups can benefit from developments in well-being or are actually disadvantaged. This specificity helps in fulfilling the ‘leave no one behind’ principle in the SDG agenda.
Statuses and positions versus trends
The most recent status of the indicators is given for both the trends in well-being and the SDGs, together with the calculated trends over the 2013–2020 period. The outer ring of the ‘wheels’ of the trends in well-being also shows the latest year-on-year change. The Netherlands’ position in the European Union (EU27) is also stated where possible. In addition, both the trend and the position in the EU are qualified. The trend is qualified as positive (green), neutral (grey) or negative (red). The position is high (green), middle (grey) or low (red). Two comments should be made with regard to the trends. This Monitor presents medium-term trends, whereas other CBS publications sometimes focus on shorter trend periods. This means the picture presented in the Monitor may differ slightly from the picture that CBS describes elsewhere. It is also important to understand what rising or falling trends mean from a well-being perspective. In the dashboards, the direction of the trend is indicated not only by an arrow (up: increasing; down: decreasing), but also by a colour (green: increasing well-being; red: decreasing well-being). It is therefore possible that a downward arrow (e.g. a decreasing number of victims of crime) will be coloured green, as a decrease in crime is seen as an improvement in well-being.
Sometimes, positive developments in one area can be associated with negative developments in another. For instance, stimulating economic growth can cause higher emissions of harmful substances. Conversely, measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions can lead to lower economic growth. In such cases, the Monitor expressly makes no statements about which developments are desirable. In this edition, however, CBS explores the potential synergies and trade-offs between the various sustainability goals and aims to continue this research into such cross-links for future editions.
The determination of the trend and position using the indicators in the dashboards is based on the primary or first-order effect on well-being.
The selection of indicators
The indicators for well-being themes were selected on the basis of the conceptual framework of the CES measuring system. This was done to maintain a clear and traceable link with this international and widely accepted framework. Every indicator in the Monitor is relevant within a theme from the framework. The developments and statuses of these indicators are presented in Chapter 2 (Trends in well-being). They are averages or totals for the Netherlands as a whole.
Chapter 3 then shows the distribution of indicators in the well-being ‘here and now’ dashboard among population groups. Where it was not possible to break indicators down between the chosen population groups, an alternative indicator was selected or the theme in question was not included.
Chapter 4 uses a set of indicators showing how the Netherlands is faring in relation to the 17 SDGs in the context of Dutch policy. In the Netherlands, CBS is responsible for monitoring progress on the SDGs. In February 2021, at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CBS published the reflection paper entitled ‘Vijf jaar implementatie SDG’s in Nederland’ (‘Five years of implementing SDGs in the Netherlands) (CBS, 2021). This report shows where the Netherlands stands five years after the national SDG implementation and ten years before the targets are due to be met. For the first time, the results were presented in combination with the policies pursued by the ministries to achieve the targets by 2030.
Chapter 4 disregards the conceptual difference between the ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’ dimensions, because the SDG agenda does not draw this distinction. The indicators in Chapter 4 are classified by SDG and by policy theme. The following categories of indicators have been included:
- A selection of the internationally agreed set of SDG indicators, specifically those of relevance to the Dutch context. This builds on earlier work by CBS in the area of the SDGs (CBS, 2016; CBS, 2018). The current edition also does not include all the SDG indicators that are relevant to the Netherlands. Additional data research needs to be conducted for a number of indicators, because the data quality is not good enough for inclusion in the Monitor’s system. For example, timely information is not always available. Furthermore, CBS does not always have consistent time series, which are necessary to determine the extent to which indicators show a significant rising or falling trend. In this respect, it is also notable that the SDG agenda places a strong emphasis on ‘here and now’ indicators, while indicators concerning the consumption of resources are less well represented. In addition, a relatively large number of ‘input indicators’ have been included in the SDG list, but indicators of outcomes are less common.
- Virtually all indicators that are used to describe the state of well-being and resilience in Chapter 2 and that have been derived from the CES framework. These indicators cover some policy themes better than others. The CES indicators have been added to ensure balance in the set of indicators.
- Additional indicators relating to resources that are used, the opportunities that this creates, the use made of opportunities, the outcomes related to that use and the perceptions of citizens.
Quality and timeliness of the data
Data quality is an important criterion when selecting indicators. This concerns the validity in relation to the theme, the reliability of the available sources, the completeness and international comparability of data and internal consistency over time. It is important that an indicator is also available for the other EU countries, as the Netherlands’ position in the EU rankings for the various themes related to well-being is a key feature of this Monitor.
The preference is for indicators that are also available for different demographic groups (e.g. for young people and elderly people, men and women, low-skilled and highly educated people). This is because such indicators can be used to describe features related to the distribution of well-being, as in the case of well-being ‘here and now’ in Chapter 3 of this Monitor.
Considerable care was taken in selecting indicators, particularly with regard to their timely availability. In some cases good indicators are available but the most recent figure is too old to be relevant for a publication intended for a Parliamentary debate. To ensure that the indicators are more up to date, CBS has made considerable efforts to have as much information as possible available for the most recent year (in this edition: 2020). Some figures in the dashboards are marked with a note (A), indicating that the 2020 figure is an initial indication and has been included to facilitate political debate; this ‘quick and dirty’ figure, in many cases produced specifically for the Monitor, may be adjusted in a later publication.
In a very few cases, an indicator has been included for which the number of data points in the 2013–2020 period is insufficient to calculate a trend. For these indicators, a note (B) has been entered in the dashboards to indicate that there is not a stable or neutral trend in these cases, but that no trend has been measured.
Since standard methods have been used for all indicators in this publication to calculate developments and year-on-year changes, differences may arise relative to other CBS publications.
The data collection for this Monitor was completed on 22 March 2021. This means that in the time between this date and the publication of the Monitor on Wednesday 19 May 2021 (Accountability Day) new figures have become available for a number of indicators which it was not possible to include.
Dataset: time series and regional distributions
CBS provides long time series of the indicators for the Monitor by posting additional Excel tables on the website. These tables include time series from 1995 onwards where possible. The Netherlands’ position can be tracked over time using the visualisations in Chapter 2. Not all data included in this publication originate from CBS. The Excel tables contain more information on the indicators used. These metadata also include the sources in each case.
For the period 2018–2022 the Dutch government is investing 950 million euros in ‘Regio Envelop’ regional funding, supporting Regio Deals aimed at tackling major societal challenges. All Regio Deals have the purpose of contributing to the development of well-being. In order to assess this, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality wants to monitor the development of well-being at regional level. This requires a monitor that presents the basic information as a coherent whole. CBS has developed the conceptual framework for this, which is consistent with this Monitor of Well-being & the SDGs (CBS, 2019). The first Regional Monitor was published on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in November 2020 (CBS, 2020). It used more than 40 indicators to build up a picture of well-being ‘here and now’ and ‘later’ in municipalities, provinces and COROP regions. Together these indicators provide a broader picture of the state and development of regional society than economic indicators alone. When indicators are added to the national Monitor, the possibility of differentiation by region will be included in future assessments of data quality.
CBS, 2016, Measuring the SDGs: an initial picture for the Netherlands. Statistics Netherlands, The Hague/Heerlen/Bonaire.
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