A focus on wellbeing in Manchester

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council

Manchester has been transformed dramatically in the last few decades. The city has experienced significant economic growth and led groundbreaking urban regeneration. Manchester has re-established itself as a global city, and is the primary economic driver, for the Manchester city region and a key element for national prosperity. Manchester is now one of only two city region pilots in the country, which will allow us to progress public service reform and give us new powers over employment, housing, transport and planning, as well as economic autonomy.

However, although the opportunities for a better quality of life are increasingly there, they are not being taken up by all our residents and there are still too many people not economically active. Schools' results are improving but still lag behind the national average, making it less likely that Manchester's young people will be able to benefit from jobs on offer, and to realise their aspirations. Too many people suffer from ill-health, causing men and women to die earlier than in other parts of the UK. Although the economy of the city has been transformed, the population decline has reversed, and deprivation is reducing at a faster rate than elsewhere, we still have a legacy of negative social impacts to overcome.

We are addressing these challenges with our partners from across the public and private sectors. Collectively we set out our vision and the route to improvement in our community strategy. However, these improvements can only be realised if there is not only a clear focus on improving wealth and the economy, but also a focus on improving the wellbeing and happiness of our residents. We have certainly not exhausted the room for increased wealth to increase happiness, it is that wealth on its own is insufficient.

If the city, and its neighbourhoods are lacking a sense of wellbeing, residents will move away and take their wealth with them. If residents are happier and have improved sense of wellbeing they are more likely to have higher aspirations, have the optimism that their aspirations can be achieved, and the resilience to overcome challenges along the way. There is therefore a legitimate role for local government and its partners to address wellbeing and promote the happiness of residents.

In Manchester we have a very clear definition of what we mean by wellbeing - increasing aspiration, improving optimism, and fostering resilience. Wellbeing through this lens shows us that there are tangible outcomes for local government in addressing wellbeing and happiness. For example, improving the emotional resilience of young people in our schools, by enhancing a number of important life skills, will enable our young people to deal constructively with daily problems and challenges, and improve attendance and attainment as a result.

A focus on wellbeing also has a major role to play in reducing worklessness. In Manchester nearly 34,000 people claim incapacity benefit (IB) and, of these, nearly half are claiming due to a mental health condition. People who are disabled due to mental health problems have lower employment rates than all other disabled groups, and it is estimated that stress related illness costs the NHS between £300-£400 million every year. Most of these IB claimants could, with the right support, be working. It is clear from this analysis that not to address wellbeing is just not economically feasible.

That's why improving wellbeing is important to us if we are going to realise our city's objectives of lessening dependency on public services, and making our residents happier with their lives.

29 November 2010

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