As with similar indicator programmes being undertaken in other EU countries, the UK government has selected a small number of key indicators, which it hopes can give an overview of developments in a way intelligible to the general public. Mr Prescott said he would like the barometer to attract as much press coverage and public debate as key economic data do currently.
The government is claiming to have broken new ground, however, by presenting selected environmental, social and economic indicators side-by-side. While seven of the indicators are environmental, three measure economic development and a further three social progress.
The resulting "balanced" indicator set will enable sustainable development to be assessed, the government says. However, it has no plans to aggregate or explicitly link different indicators in the set, arguing that aggregation is "not yet scientifically valid or technically robust".
Of the seven environmental indicators selected, six are intended to measure aspects of environmental protection and one natural resource use, for which the proposed indicator is total generation of waste.
Environmental protection indicators are: greenhouse gas emissions as a measure of contribution to climate change; days of urban air pollution as a measure of air quality; road vehicle kilometres as a measure of road traffic; the percentage of rivers classified as "good" or "fair" quality as a measure of water pollution; populations of wild birds as a measure of the state of wildlife; and the proportion of new homes built on previously developed land as a measure of land use.
Social indicators are: life expectancy for women and men as a measure of health; proportion of the population attaining a set level of qualifications by age 19 as a measure of education; and the proportion of homes judged unfit to live in as a measure of housing quality. The government intends to develop the life expectancy indicator further to measure expectancy of healthy life, which varies between social classes.
Economic indicators are: gross domestic product as a measure of economic growth; investment in public assets such as transport, hospitals and schools as a measure of social investment; and proportion of people of working age in work as a measure of employment.
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