How is life in the Border, Midland and West Region? How does it compare with that in other similar regions in Europe and elsewhere? A new tool can help answer these questions.
The OECD has been working on a tool for measuring regional well-being using indicators that take account of more than economics and material conditions and include indicators of quality of life. The OECD Regional Well-being web tool shows the factors contributing to well-being in different regions and allows us to compare our region – the Border, Midland and West  with 361 other OECD regions based on nine topics central to the quality of our lives.
Other tools measuring quality of life (such as the CSO Regional Quality of life in Ireland and the Gateways Development Index) , are already available and are useful for comparing the situation within Ireland, but the OECD index is particularly useful for transnational comparisons.
The tool uses nine different measures dimensions of well-being (Income, Jobs, Housing, Education, Health, Environment, Safety, Civic Engagement, and Accessibility of Services). This provides a new way to compare a range of factors across OECD regions. The dimensions chosen are all important to quality of life in the OECD regions but because of the need to use comparable data some of the indicators are very limited. This can be seen in Figure 1 below.
The tool and set of indicators provide a common reference for regions to develop their own metrics of well-being and to consider the most appropriate areas of comparison for their own areas. While the indicators used are limited they can help to benchmark the relative position of a place and see how life in the region compares to that elsewhere, where a region has advantages and what aspects of material well-being and quality of life should be targeted for improvement. It also allows for comparison over time.
Figure 1: Topic Indicator Overview
The regional well-being tool provides both a score for each topic and the percentile position of each region on that topic. Often what appears to be a high score may not translate into a high percentile rating because of the wide variation among regions. Similarly, as for Income (discussed below) a low score can still be associated with a good percentile rating.
The limitations of the indicators are, however, clear. For example, Housing is a broad concept but the indicator used is only based on the number of rooms available to occupants, while Access to Services is only measured by access to broadband, and safety relates only to violent death. Nonetheless, it is useful to see how we are doing and how we compare with other similar regions, and it is to be hoped that in the future more information will be added providing a broader base for comparison.
How is life in our region?
The tool does not provide an overall score for each region but it illustrates the different strengths and weaknesses of each region (See Figure 2).
- The BMW region scores highly (7.1) on Housing (which is measured by number of rooms per person) which puts it in the top 26% of OECD regions. Rural regions are more likely to score highly in this indicator, given the lower cost of space compared to city and suburban areas.
- In contrast the region scores poorly on Jobs (3.0) and is in the bottom 12% of OECD regions for this indicator. The Jobs indicator is based on the employment rates (58.2%) in 2013 and the unemployment rate (15.5%) in 2013.
- The Income score for the BMW region is also relatively low (4.3) but the region is in the top 51% of OECD regions with an income of $16,219 in 2011. This is because of considerable variation in Income levels among OECD regions and so even though the BMW is in the top half of regions for income, the score is relatively low because of the significantly higher incomes in some regions.
Figure 2: Border, Midland and West Region Well Being Index
Quality of life:
- The BMW performs very well on Environment (based on an air pollution indicator) with a score of 9.0 and puts the region in the top 12% of OECD regions.
- One of the region’s highest scores is for Safety (8.7) where the BMW is in the top 49% of regions. Safety is based on the homicide rate per 100,000 people (1.4 for the region).
- The BMW scores 7.4 for both Education and Health, and this score puts the region in the top 39% for Health (based on mortality (8.0 deaths per 1,000) and life expectancy (81.1 years)) and the bottom 44% for Education (based on the share of the labour force with at least secondary education (77.2%)).
- The region is in the top 43% of OECD regions for Civic Engagement (based on voter turnout, 70.6%) with a score of 6.1.
- Finally, for access to services, which is based only on households with Broadband access (58.7%) the region is in the bottom 27% of OECD regions.
How do we compare?
The main benefit of the tool is ease of comparison with other OECD regions. The tool itself provides an automatic comparison with regions suggested as having similar well-being. The regions suggested by the tool as scoring similar to the BMW are: North East England; Cantabria in Spain; Lisbon in Portugal; the North Island of New Zealand. These can be seen on the BMW page of the tool linked to above.
However it is more useful to compare our region well-being with that in other similar regions rather than based on well-being scores, so four European regions and four OECD regions are included for comparison here. The regions were selected as having similarities with our own BMW region, being maritime and agricultural regions, relatively remote from the main cities or centres of power, and located in temperate climates.
These characteristics mean the regions are often similar in terms of their high scores for Environment, Safety and Housing, given that they are rural regions with less pollution, less violent crime and larger houses. These similarities are interesting, but the differences in other factors (for example jobs and incomes, or access to services (broadband) or health vary significantly and are the result, at least in part, of policy decisions in and for that region. It would be useful, in future, to try to understand the policy decisions and regional characteristics which give rise to the differences in the scores and see what we can learn from them.
It is important to remember that the types and size of the regions selected can influence the areas they score highly, as can rurality or the inclusion of major urban centres.
Comparison with European Regions
Four European regions (NUTS 2) are shown below for comparison (North Jutland, Denmark; Brittany, France; Galicia, Spain; Northern Ireland, UK. See Figure 3). All score well on safety, and on environment, with more variability on the other topic areas. Access to services, which means access to broadband, is interesting given the rural nature of these regions. Both North Jutland and Northern Ireland score 10.0 with 86.7% access in North Jutland and 87% access in Northern Ireland. In contrast, only 59.3% had access to broadband in Galicia. This compares with 58.7% in the BMW.
Brittany and Northern Ireland score relatively well on both jobs and income, and Northern Jutland performs well on jobs but is weaker on income. The BMW was weaker on jobs than either Brittany or Northern Ireland but performed better than Northern Jutland and Galicia on income
Figure 3: Comparison of scores in four selected European regions
|North Jutland, Denmark||Brittany, France|
|Galicia, Spain||Northern Ireland, UK|
Comparison with selected OECD Regions
Looking further afield, four other OECD regions (New Brunswick, Canada; Tasmania, Australia; Hokkaido, Japan; South Island, New Zealand) with similar characteristics to the BMW are shown below (Figure 4). Again there are high scores for Safety and Environment (except for Hokkaido) and broadband is more variable here, though none of these regions are as good as the better European ones. Hokkaido has the same level of broadband (58.5% of households with access) as the BMW scoring 5.8. All of these regions perform better than the BMW on jobs, with Tasmania doing best, while South Island and Hokkaido both had high job scores with Hokkaido in the top 16 % of OECD regions and South Island in the top 7%. The regions performed similarly or better than the BMW on incomes (Hokkaido and South Island are slightly lower than the BMW). All regions except Hokkaido also achieve high housing scores.
Figure 4: Comparison of scores in four selected OECD regions
|New Brunswick, Canada||Tasmania, Australia|
|Hokkaido, Japan||South Island, New Zealand|
While there is variation in the scores of all of these regions, and they all have characteristics which will make them perform differently, it would be useful to consider how regions with similar characteristics vary and whether there are policies or actions that have improved their scores, and whether there are policy learnings from such regions, or different uses of natural resources that could be adopted in the BMW.
 Border, Midland and West is a NUTS 2 region and while larger than the seven county Western Region covered by the WDC it is the relevant region at this level as it contains all but one of the WDC’s counties.
 The most recent available data is used and this varies by year for different categories. The Tool is updated as new data becomes available. See www.oecdregionalwellbeing.org and click Download the data for full details.
 The same information is also available for the Southern and Eastern region (http://www.oecdregionalwellbeing.org/region.html#IE02 ), but because of the simplicity of the data used the tool is best employed making international comparisons.
 Disposable household income per head, US$, current prices, current PPP
 It varies from $51,677 (Australian Capital Territory) to $6,478 (Tarapaça, Chile)