The RF guide to good health and life satisfaction Top of the Charts 31 January 2020 Torsten Bell Afternoon all, Immeasurably significant but incredibly calm is, it turns out, what Brexit day feels like. The calm bit isn’t what many would have expected a few months back amid the screaming. Which makes me reflect that while politics made a total dog’s dinner of the last three years, in another way democratic politics has also done its job. History is not full of societies taking big decisions without the resort to violence. Its democratic politics that makes that possible. So, in the most unpopular argument of the week, TOTCs says “amen to politics”. On reads this week we thought the gap in most of your lives probably wasn’t Brexit, so we’ve gone roaming elsewhere for insights into the big questions facing us in the 2020s – from the environment to inequality (of the people and places varieties). The challenges are big and real. And maybe another result of today is we’ll all feel a bit more responsibility for answering them. So tonight sing your songs, drink your drink, cry your tears of celebration or commiseration. Then get back to work sorting out a better Britain. Well survived TOTC “thought for the day” edition. Have a good weekend, Torsten Chief Executive Resolution Foundation Keep it clean. We’re all focused on the present of infectious disease, but it turns out we often misrepresent the past. The history of how diseases like cholera and tuberculosis were all but eradicated in the developed world focuses on scientific breakthroughs like antibiotics and vaccines. But a new fascinating new blog takes us on a tour of death rates over the past few centuries, and finds that mortality rates were falling well before the key medical breakthroughs. We didn’t have a measles vaccine until the 1960s, but by then mortality was already down by 90 per cent from 1900. Now obviously this isn’t an anti-vaxer rant – death rates came down a lot faster after new drugs turned up. But it turns out that draining the swamps made the countryside a lot safer, and sorting out urban sanitation was a really good idea. maybe it’s reassuring to see we’re set for some good old fashioned quarantining on the Wirral. Deep breath. Centre for Cities’ new Cities Outlook takes a look at air quality and (unsurprisingly) makes for concerning reading. The key fear-inducing stat stat: air pollutant PM2.5 was the cause of more than one in nineteen deaths in the UK’s main cities/towns – and up to one in sixteen in the capital. Gulp (some clean air). And hippies can’t get away with blaming it all on the cars they cycle past – half of PM2.5 emissions in cities come from elsewhere like wood and coal fires. Gini in a bottle (pt. 1). Back in the 80s there was a genuine debate about whether or not we should care about inequality – so long as everyone was getting richer. Luckily many more of us have now come down on the side of caring (in part because we’re not all getting much richer these days). But which measures of it should we do the caring about? That’s the question taken on by Angus Deaton and Anne Case (famous for their brilliant work chronicling ‘deaths of despair’ and the opioid crisis in the US) in this month’s Prospect. The article is a (slightly overdone) polemic against the dominance of the Gini coefficient in discussions of inequality – noting that it ignores many other forms of inequality that really matter – from the wealth held by the top 0.1% to our health. Gini in a bottle (pt. 2). Another call for considering inequality in broad terms comes from Tory MP Neil O’Brien who rightly argues that we need to be clear about what metrics we care about when it comes to ‘levelling up’ areas of the UK. How we measure incomes, and what we look at matters – especially in driving government priorities. We’ll be taking a deep dive into the living standards of the newly Conservative constituencies of the Blue Wall in the coming weeks. Fear not – there’ll be many metrics. Alexander Hamilton… didn’t just inspire the musical phenomenon. He’s also the namesake of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution – a sub-set of that think tank focused on achieving equitable growth. They’ve just published a new book chock-a-block full of plans for a better (and fairer) US tax system. The chapters on wealth taxes are well worth your time, especially the call for reforming inheritance tax by shifting from taxing estates to taxing lifetime receipts of unearned income. Closer to home, the (snappily named) All-Party Parliamentary Group for Inheritance & Intergenerational Fairness published a paper this week written by Emma Chamberlain QC looking at the same question – and also advocating greater targeting of lifetime transfers of wealth” to “also advocating greater targeting of lifetime transfers of wealth so that those lucky enough to receive gifts pay tax, rather than those unlucky enough to die. Hopefully the Chancellor is listening. Money can’t buy you happiness. But it can buy you life satisfaction, according to a group of economists looking at lottery winners in Sweden (see summary). The paper goes further than studies showing that happiness and life satisfaction are positively correlated with wealth – by showing that increases in wealth can cause improvements in life satisfaction. Taking lottery winners as examples of individuals who have experienced a randomly allocated increase in wealth, the study found that winners reported increases in general life wellbeing from five to twenty-two years after their win. Which will be disappointing for those of you seeing Swedes as being above such materialistic concerns. Of course, a more cynical reading is that getting lucky leaves a lasting smugness… And note, while overall life satisfaction increased for lottery winners, it didn’t do much for the happiness or mental health of those hitting the jackpot. Chart of the Week There always a lot of housing chat around, among policy makers, the angry youth and newspaper supplements. We’re doing our bit to keep the chat fresh with the launch of a new quarterly Housing Outlook, from which Chart of the Week is drawn. It focuses on a housing trend that barely gets a look in, but matters a lot for anyone asking why homelessness has become such a feature of 21st Century Britain. Housing benefit is the benefit that most directly ensures millions of low-income families can afford a roof over their head. But in recent years far fewer of those families are having their rent fully covered by the benefit. Today barely half of all social renters, and a quarter of private renters on housing benefit, are fully supported. A fraction of that fall is about more people being in work, but mainly it’s about benefit cuts. This is something worth more than talking about… PS – if you like this chart, you can now make your own by exploring our new interactive housing data dashboard.