|It might not feel like it to those stuck on a delayed train or struggling to get a mobile phone signal but Britain has been ranked as the second most advanced country in the world in a new measure designed to rival GDP.
The UK outstrips the United States, Germany, France and Japan for overall progress in living standards, infrastructure and individual opportunity according to the index designed by a team of US economists.
Only Sweden scores more highly overall in the new “Social Progress Index” (SPI), which ranks 50 leading countries by combining figures on everything from health and crime to broadband access and freedom of speech.
According to the authors, Britain’s constant efforts to “straddle” Europe and America have made it one if the best places to live in the world overall.
While European countries with often generous welfare systems score highly in the new index’s key “social infrastructure” measure, they fare less well in the “opportunity” category which combines personal freedoms with measures such as access to higher education.
Meanwhile the US tops the table in opportunity but comes only 16th in the social infrastructure category.
And, despite criticisms of the NHS, health care proves central to Britain’s success in the rankings.
The index compiled by Prof Michael Porter, of Harvard, and a team of economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is designedas an alternative to traditional measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is based on purely economic standards.
They pulled together more than 50 sets of data ranging from figures from the OECD and World Health Organisation to academic studies to come up with the new measure of overall progress.
Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, the Washington-based think-tank which publishes the new index, said the secret of the UK’s success appeared to be its “mid-Atlantic” approach.
“If you think of Britain’s self image as straddling the best of Europe and the best of America that is what seems to be coming across in the data,” he said.
While the US spends more per head than anywhere else in the world on health care, it comes only 11th for overall “health and wellness” in the new index.
By contrast health spending in Britain is 11th but it tops the table for overall health and wellness.
The UK also comes fourth on a measure of “access to information and communications” behind Switzerland, Germany and Sweden but ahead of the Korea, France and the US.
The measure takes into account official figures for broadband access and mobile phone use as well as an index of “press freedom”.
But Mr Green added: “We are not saying that Britain is perfect, you can unpick this and see where the challenges are.
“One is affordable housing where we do less well than Germany, there are emerging issues in health such as obesity, heart disease and cancer and also access to higher education comes up.”
He went on: “We are not just another income measure like GDP, our index is based on measuring real things that matter to real people.
“GDP is pretty good at measuring social progress, the results broadly correlate with rising income but it is not the whole answer and we have got to start to talk about other things as well.”
The SPI top 10: