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Written on 18 Mar 2019

UK Office for National Statistics awards pilot research grant to Bennett Institute’s Wealth Economy team

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) awarded funds in its first ever open call for research in economic measurement to the Bennett Institute’s Matthew Agarwala for a project entitled “National Statistics for the Wealth-Based Economy”.

The National Statistics for the Wealth-Based Economy project aims to improve our understanding of the modern economy. It will bring senior members of the UK ONS, United Nations, and OECD teams working on natural and social capital together with leading academics to re-imagine economic statistics. Its objective is to outline the research needs that would help statistical agencies improve the measurement of natural and social capital, provide a more holistic measure of (changes in) human wellbeing, and enhance our understanding of the sustainability of development. The intended audience includes national statisticians, politicians, economists, international organizations, and the financial press.

Matthew said: “The decision of ONS to fund our proposal demonstrates the hunger among real-world practitioners for the work we’re doing at the Bennett Institute.”

The work complements a broader research portfolio on the Wealth Economy: Natural and Social Capital, funded by LetterOne.

ONS said the project is attractive because of its “strong relevance to ONS’s Economic Statistics Analysis Strategy priorities and potential for collaboration with the work being undertaken internally.”

There is now widespread recognition that established systems of national accounting and their associated macroeconomic statistics provide only a partial (and potentially misleading) view of modern economies. Crucial omissions include issues of sustainability, human wellbeing, and inequality. In increasingly globalized, service-based economies – and against the backdrop of climate change – these blind spots could reduce the efficacy and relevance of official statistics. Put simply, the gap between national accounts and the real world is growing.

The long-term goal is to set out a research agenda that would feed into the 2030 revisions of the System of National Accounts, and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts. Such a time horizon is necessary because of the rigorous process for changing statistical standards. We need to conduct the research now to influence the next round of revisions. 

ONS is globally recognized as a leader in national accounting innovation. Data collection, experimental accounting (especially around natural capital) and a willingness to engage make the UK ONS the best place to fund and conduct this research.