David Behrens: This happy breed of PR nonsense ignores those with no home

Craven has been named the happiest place in Britain
Craven has been named the happiest place in Britain
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SO MUCH has happened since David Cameron was prime minister that it’s becoming increasingly easy to forget that he ever was. It is certainly hard to recall that before he was at Number 10, he was a public relations man.

I was reminded of it this week when the annual “happiness” figures were published. Happiness was a measure of the nation’s wellbeing conceived by Cameron as an alternative to more tangible but less convenient computations such as the gross national product.

Only someone in PR could have come up with something this superficial. Wellbeing, Cameron claimed, could not be measured by money or traded in markets; it was about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and the strength of our relationships.

That may be true at an individual level but as an indicator of our national prosperity it’s as worthless as International Square Dancing Month, which, in case you didn’t know, this is.

Nevertheless, the happiness figures, along with Brexit, are Cameron’s legacy, and their appearance on Tuesday revealed that the North Yorkshire district of Craven is the happiest and most fulfilled in the country.

Richmondshire, its equally delightful neighbour, was fifth on the list; between them, rural North Warwickshire, the Orkney Islands and the picturesque pocket of Essex known as Uttlesford.

At the foot of the table was Wolverhampton, whose inhabitants were said to be the gloomiest in Britain and the least likely to feel that their lives were worthwhile. I don’t know whether they actually said this or whether the researchers merely inferred it from their accent.

The questions they had been asked included this one: “How satisfied are you with your life these days, on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely satisfied’?”

Which number corresponded to ‘Mind your own business’ was unclear. But you don’t have to be a genius, or even a PR man, to see that the nicer the place in which you live, the happier you will be.

I was in Craven myself last week, taking in the scenery around Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Pen-y-Ghent, and in such surroundings I defy anyone not to feel content, especially if they have gone a couple of days without watching the news.

A more realistic picture of our national prosperity was revealed in a second set of figures, published on the same day, which reported that one in five young people in London, some 12,500, have “sofa surfed” in the past year and nearly half of them have done so for more than a month, without help from any agency. In other words they have been forced to sleep on someone else’s couch and very likely a different one each night.

This statistic tells us that there are far more homeless people than anyone had realised. Around 13 times more, in fact. The fact that such a scandal could have developed apparently below the radar of our public services, at the same time as those services were being diverted to keep alive the vanity project of a former prime minister, is itself worthy of an inquiry.

There won’t be one, because the public sector is too busy pursuing other diversions of its own invention – including the promotion of a preposterous “brilliant civil service” initiative even in the face of a report rating it among the world’s worst at making services available digitally 
and less good at financial management than the Czech Republic.

The homelessness figure among young people struck a chord with me because last week my son left home, to begin the first stage of his journey through life as an independent person. This year, he is in halls of residence at his university; next year, who knows?

I packed him a bag of groceries and told him to buy more from the cheapest shop he could find, but I didn’t expect he would find them at Home Bargains.

“Do they even sell fresh food?” I asked. “No, but they have lots of tins.”

I don’t imagine for a moment that he will ever become a statistic on a report about hidden homelessness, but neither, I’m sure, did the parents of any of the 12,500 who did.

Letting go of a child is like releasing a balloon to the wind; it goes where the breeze takes it.

If you’re lucky, it will be blown to Craven or Richmondshire; if not, Wolverhampton.