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The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre (the Centre) released a study on ‘Bauhinia Well-being Index’ today, which highlights that despite the upward performance of the Hong Kong economy in the last 15 years, the Bauhinia Well-being Index (BWI) remained almost stagnant, with a widening gap between the two. Between 2000 and 2015, Hong Kong’s cumulative growth in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita was 56.9%, whilst the BWI was up by 0.4% only, showing that economic prosperity has no significant impact on people’s happiness.
The Centre’s Chairman and Convenor of the study Dr Donald Li said, ‘The findings of the study have rung an alarm bell for the overall development of Hong Kong. In recent years, various social issues have provoked heated debate in society, and it is difficult for the Government to achieve an effective administration. In the long run, it will erode the city’s competitiveness and affect the well-being of Hongkongers. An increase in GDP under these circumstances, may not get a round of applause, but many criticisms.’
GDP has been a major indicator of economic performance and development of a place. However, many scholars have pointed out that GDP cannot fully capture the quality of life of the public. Significant progress has been made in the well-being concept and its measurement method in recent years, and governments of various regions have successively set up their own well-being indices and use it to assist in the evaluation of policies.
Dr Li added, ‘The BWI measures the well-being of Hong Kong people from multiple perspectives, which aims at arousing people’s awareness on different factors that influence livelihood. Good policies would make people happy. The Government should break with the ‘GDP first’ ideology, focus on people’s well-being, and integrate the well-being concept into public policy. These would help Hongkongers live a happier life.’
Making reference to the theoretical framework of similar indices in other places, and taking Hong Kong’s socio-economic situation into consideration, the Centre has selected 11 topics that are closely related to the life of Hong Kong people, including Income and income redistribution, Housing, Jobs, Health, Safety, Education, Environment, Culture, entertainment and leisure, Family, Governance and civil society, as well as Transportation. There are 39 indicators in total and the selection of indicators under each topic is based on four principles: representativeness, measurement of final outcomes, data reliability and data comparability. The BWI is compiled with equal weighting and tracks the annual changes of Hong Kong people’s well-being since 2000 (base year).
The study reveals that among the 11 sub-indices, the performance of Housing is the poorest. The sub-index Housing comprises three indicators, including price-to-income ratio, rent-to-income ratio and public rental housing waiting rate. The sub-index was under substantial downward pressure since 2003 by virtue of rising property prices, with a drop of 96.9% in 2015 if compared with 2000, thereby dragging down the BWI.
Transportation is the second worst performance sub-index, which has declined by 44.4% in 2015 compared with 2000, largely owing to the worsening of vehicle density and increasing public transport services complaint rate.
The sub-index Jobs has seen the largest increase in the last 15 years, with a rise of 46.8% relative to 2000. The three indicators under the Jobs sub-index, namely unemployment rate, underemployment rate and labour disputes rate, have made impressive improvements. Both the unemployment rate and underemployment rate have improved steadily since 2003, whereas labour disputes rate has made considerable progress from 2002 onwards.
Culture, entertainment and leisure is the second-best sub-index, which has grown by 28.7% in 2015 compared with 2000. Although the public open space per capita has slightly decreased, the other two indicators, cultural and entertainment performance and recreation and sports activities participation rate - the latter one in particular, have made notable progress. These figures have in turn contributed to a positive performance of the BWI.
Despite the relatively satisfactory performance of the sub-index Culture, entertainment and leisure, working long hours often leads to less time for rest and leisure activities, which may trigger physical and mental health issues. The inadequacy of the existing data on people’s time use pattern hinders evaluation in these areas. The Centre suggests the Government to collect related data constantly in order to have a better understanding of how people spend their leisure time and their preferences for various activities. These statistics could be used for better policy formulation.
Improve people’s livelihood by implementing the well-being concept into public policy
Dr Li concluded, ‘In short, people’s livelihood and well-being are affected by different aspects, economic factor is just one of them. To maintain and enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness, the Government should focus on the well-being of people. We recommend the Government to sketch a roadmap to happiness by integrating the well-being concept into public policy through survey, research and policy formulation.’
1. Set up a Well-being Statistical System
To regularly collect data through existing or additional surveys, aiming to fully reflect the well-being of Hong Kong people.
2. Establish a ‘Hong Kong Well-being Office’
To coordinate well-being research among government departments, academia and community organisations and establish a well-being research funding scheme. The analysis from well-being related studies would help better understand the interrelationships among different aspects and provide concrete bases for policy formulation.
3. Develop a comprehensive set of policy guidelines
The ‘Hong Kong Well-being Office’ is suggested to document detailed policy guidelines and analytical framework and employ effective research methods to improve the quality of policy. The published reports should be kept in the central database to enhance policy transparency and accountability.
The BWI is an important first step towards promoting the study of well-being in Hong Kong, which provides a useful reference for the policy makers, scholars and stakeholders. The Centre believes that embedding the well-being concept and related analysis in public policy will build a truly inclusive and harmonious society - Hong Kong people will live a happier life.
Having considered that the level of importance people attach to the 11 topics may vary, the Centre has designed an interactive webpage, wellbeing.bauhinia.org. You may create your personalised well-being index by rating different topics, and see how yours is different from others.