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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Make people happier, says Cameron
David Cameron
Mr Cameron has called for a move to a "modern vision of ethical work"
Tory leader David Cameron says there is more to life than making money, arguing that improving people's happiness is a key challenge for politicians.

In a speech to the Google Zeitgeist Europe conference, he said the focus should not just be on financial wealth.

Under a Tory government, the public sector would become "the world leader in progressive employment practice".

But he conceded that some on the right would believe people's well-being was nothing to do with politics.

Relationships important

However, Mr Cameron says improving society's sense of happiness is of the utmost importance.

He insists that the old Protestant work ethic should move to a "modern vision of ethical work" and highlighted examples of good practice in flexible working.

In the past few years figures close to government in Britain have been arguing once again that policies should take account of how happy - or unhappy - they make people
Mark Easton
BBC News Home Editor

"It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being," he said.

"Well-being can't be measured by money or traded in markets. It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships.

"Improving our society's sense of well-being is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times."

Mr Cameron said he wanted to create a government that worked towards "an ambitious goal to make the British public sector the world leader in progressive employment practice.

"We need to do this at the same time as showing clearly and unambiguously that these practices are raising productivity and improving outputs for the people who use and, through their taxes, pay for these vital public services."

Jamie Oliver

He said much of modern consumer culture "ultimately seems unsatisfactory" because it fails to meet the deep human need for commitment and belonging, said Mr Cameron.

He argued that Conservatives needed to show that they care about the quality of people's working lives.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson
Is Cameron's speech about more than political positioning?
BBC political editor Nick Robinson

While government must not ignore issues like flexible working, job-sharing, child care leave and home-working, it should not seek to impose ethical working practice through regulation.

A Tory administration would act as an "advocate for progress", talking up good initiatives and drawing attention to bad practice.

"Some will say that simply talking about changing culture is nebulous. But let's be honest - who has down more for school food: countless government initiatives, or Jamie Oliver?"

'Warm words'?

A spokesman for the TUC welcomed Mr Cameron's recognition that work-life balance and quality of working life should be high on the political agenda.

But he added that only unions campaigning for change and the law will ensure minimum standards.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said: "Unless the costs and benefits are made clear, talk of maximising happiness could simply turn out to be warm rhetoric with little practical meaning."

It is not the first time the question of happiness has concerned politicians.

In 1999 Tony Blair wrote about achieving "a better quality of life", and that meant more than "concentrating solely on economic growth".

For Labour, Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling MP, said: "Warm words and hand-wringing alone will not deliver a better work-life balance.

"It is a Labour government that has increased maternity leave, introduced paid paternity leave and created the right to request flexible working. All measures improving people's lives. All measures David Cameron opposed."

For the Liberal Democrats, deputy leader Vincent Cable MP said: "These are important issues, but it is far from clear that Mr Cameron has any serious alternative measures to indicate national performance.

"It is yet another example of posturing without substance. Once again, vague positioning has taken precedence over spelling out concrete policies."

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