Quality of life

Status:Final report complete.   Published:

A discussion paper setting out the Commission's strategic position on its quality of life objective.

Executive summary

The National Infrastructure Commission has four objectives, which are specified as part of its remit:

  • support sustainable economic growth across all regions of the UK
  • improve competitiveness
  • improve quality of life
  • support climate resilience and the transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.1

The last of these was given to the Commission as a new objective in October 2021.2

The Commission is currently publishing a series of discussion papers reviewing each of the objectives. These will clarify the Commission’s interpretation of its objectives and explain how the Commission will measure the contribution its recommendations make towards its objectives.

The first discussion paper on the Commission’s competitiveness objective was published in April 2020.3 A follow up on growth across regions was published in November 2020.4 The Commission has also published work on the environment, net zero and resilience, prior to being given its fourth objective.5

This discussion paper sets out the Commission’s strategic position on its quality of life objective. The paper covers three broad areas:

  • the Commission’s definition of quality of life
  • infrastructure and quality of life in the UK
  • how the Commission will measure this objective.

As part of interpreting the objective and approaching measurement, the Commission acknowledges there are some overlapping areas between its objectives. A key overlap is between quality of life and economic growth. This paper highlights the most relevant of these overlaps.

The Commission’s interpretation of quality of life

Quality of life usually captures how happy or satisfied people are in their lives. It encompasses a complex and interacting set of factors which operate at different scales, from individuals to communities and countries, and can be measured objectively and subjectively. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • where and how people live and work
  • physical and mental health
  • relationships with family and friends
  • social and cultural norms
  • how much control people have in their daily lives.

The Commission defines quality of life as an objective and subjective assessment of an individual’s overall wellbeing. The link between economic infrastructure and quality of life is indirect.6 This means the Commission’s recommendations are likely to have an impact via multiple ‘domains’, which in turn affect quality of life (see the figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Impact of the Commission’s recommendations

Graphic showing the four steps resulting from a Commission recommendation and its impact on quality of life

The Commission will therefore assess the impact of infrastructure on quality of life via a series of domains, an approach adopted by many organisations. The Commission’s domains are derived from the ONS wellbeing dashboard, which is made up of ten domains, focusing on those that directly relate to infrastructure. The domains are set out in Table 1 below.

Table 1: The Commission’s quality of life domains
Domain nameDefinitionRelevant ONS domain(s)
HealthThe impacts of infrastructure services on physical and mental healthHealth
Personal Wellbeing
Local and natural surroundingsThe impact of infrastructure design and operation on the local and natural environmentEnvironment
Where we live now
ConnectionsThe physical connections (transport networks) and digital connections (fixed and mobile broadband) that link people, communities and businessesRelationships
What we do
Where we live
AffordabilityThe distributional impact of the cost of infrastructure services that domestic consumers pay through bills or fares and the overall cost of infrastructure over timePersonal finance
Comfort and convenienceUsers’ experience with infrastructure services including the level of satisfaction derived from these servicesPersonal wellbeing
Where we live
EmploymentHow infrastructure acts as an enabler for patterns of economic activity and therefore access to jobsWhat we do

Infrastructure and quality of life in the UK

The UK’s economic infrastructure provides essential services and a range of benefits that underpin people’s livelihoods and the economy. However, quality of life varies between different types of places, with differences in the built environment, including infrastructure contributing to this. This is because there is spatial variation of provision in some sectors such as transport and digital connectivity, and in levels of resilience to hazards such as floods. However, many services such as water and electricity are provided universally across different types of places.

Historically, infrastructure transformed how and where people lived and worked. While, modern infrastructure has created a new set of problems, these are of a different scale compared to the historic issues that were characterised by a lack or absence of quality infrastructure – such as a lack of clean water and basic sanitation. In many ways, infrastructure has solved more problems than it has created.

For example, infrastructure contributes to health through the provision of clean water and access to health services, but air and noise pollution are damaging to health. Infrastructure can contribute to the local and natural surroundings through good urban design, access to blue and green spaces and reducing or capturing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. But poorly designed infrastructure can lead to biodiversity loss. Similar opportunities and risks exist across all the domains.

Overall, the Commission recognises that improving quality of life involves improving and maintaining the benefits from using infrastructure and minimising the negative impacts.

Measuring the objective

The Commission has developed a framework to measure how infrastructure can improve quality of life outcomes using the six domains set out in Table 1. The Commission will apply this framework in its future work including the second National Infrastructure Assessment. However, it will be applied proportionately, as some recommendations will not have quality of life impacts and others will only be relevant to a few domains.

The Commission welcomes comments on this discussion paper, including evidence on how infrastructure affects quality of life and ways that the Commission could monitor and measure impacts. Please send any comments to NICdiscussionpapers@nic.gov.uk by 31 October 2022.

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