CBS highlights well-being theme in ministerial budgets

/ Author: Karel Feenstra
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© Hollandse Hoogte / Flip Franssen
At the request of the Dutch Cabinet, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) publishes the Monitor of Well-being & the Sustainable Development Goals annually on Accountability Day (May). This year, for Budget Day (September), CBS has also published an update of relevant well-being data in the form of four factsheets covering the specific budgets of four government ministries.
These factsheets make developments in well-being and the SDGs more visible in each policy area. The Ministry of Finance has commissioned CBS to elaborate these factsheets further, in consultation with the ministries. For Budget Day in 2023, factsheets will be published with updated data for all government ministries.

Budget and policy cycle

The factsheets can be seen as a regular addition to the CBS’ provision of relevant facts and figures for policymaking. ‘Many of our reports look backwards. This is also the case on Accountability Day. Members of parliament asked if we could also examine how well-being is taken into account in the course of the budget and policymaking cycle. These factsheets are a step towards making this possible. They should not be seen as policy advice, but as a statistical instrument. They help MPs and ministries to see what well-being actually constitutes in their specific policy area. Indicators describing specific elements of the policy budget can be added to the indicator set.’ says Jan-Pieter Smits of CBS.

Factsheets for each policy area

The factsheets are a work in progress: CBS is consulting with ministries to see how it can contribute concretely for each policy area. CBS researcher Karin van der Ven: ‘This year, on the day before Budget Day, we are publishing updates of the four factsheets that we first published last year. These factsheets relate to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Ministry of Justice and Security, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. In September 2023 we plan to publish a set of factsheets for all the ministries.

Showing the complexity

The factsheets CBS has published this year for a number of ministries contain selected indicators from the Monitor of Well-being. CBS will set up a series of discussions with ministries and other users to arrive at a suitable selection of indicators and thus a politically useful instrument. Departmental policies interconnect with and influence each other. CBS researcher Chantal Blom: ‘The factsheets serve as a clear illustration of how policy themes interconnect and how complex the whole budget and policy cycle is.’

How we combine the frames of well-being and the SDGs in the Netherlands is quite unique

Unravelling the intricacies

The Monitor of Well-being and the factsheets are also a response to the motion tabled by Hammelburg in the House of Representatives (Kamerstukken II 2021-2022, 35 925, nr. 88) to make well-being indicators a focal point of the budget and other political accountability moments. Smits: ‘The monitor raises the effects and consequences of policy above the current hot topics. This helps policymakers to safeguard longer term policies and make better decisions for the long term.’ Complex matters are broken down for policymakers and politicians. Blom: ‘The factsheets provide an overview of well-being and zoom in on various policy areas. In the future we want policymakers and other users to be able to click further to get more details.’

Level of well-being for future generations

How is the Netherlands doing in terms of well-being? This is a wide-ranging question and relates to more than economic growth, purchasing power projections and GDP. CBS has been measuring well-being in a broader sense for a number of years now. Smits: ‘We do this by looking not only at life ‘here and now’ and how well-being is distributed across various groups in the population, but also by taking into account the consequences of our current high level of well-being for future generations and for people elsewhere in the world, especially those in the poorest groups.’ CBS uses the CES Recommendations for Measuring Sustainable Development to do this, an international guideline for measuring well-being and sustainability.

Position of the Netherlands

According to Smits, the Monitor of Well-being paints a picture for the medium term. ‘ The measurement of progress on the SDGs has been integrated into the monitor. Green arrows signify that well-being is moving towards the SDG targets; red arrows indicate where well-being is moving away from these targets.’ Moreover the monitor shows how the Netherlands is doing within the European Union. Blom: ‘What are the effects of the pursuit of well-being for the future and for other countries? But also: how does the Netherlands compare to other countries in Europe? And not only in terms of data, but also in terms of perception: both are important in politics.’

International agenda

CBS generates a lot of data for the Monitor of Well-being & the SDGs, but it also uses data from a number of national and international agencies such as the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) and Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU. The United Nations is also very interested in this CBS work. The UN SDGs constitute an international agenda for a sustainable planet. The SDGs are translated into national goals, which member states use their own methods to achieve. But this does not mean that the global context of these national action plans is a given. Van der Ven: ‘The effect of national actions on well-being in other countries is measured by very few statistics offices. What we are doing at CBS – combining the frames of well-being and the SDGs – is quite unique.’