Value of a human life calculation is flawed, paper says

value of a human life
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A new paper suggests that the UK government’s current methodology for determining the value of a human life is flawed.

The paper, titled ‘Minimum sample size for the survey measurement of a wealth-dependent parameter with the UK VPF as exemplar’ and published in the Measurement journal, posits that the UK’s ‘Value of a Prevented Fatality’ (VPF) of around £1.8m (€2.02m) is currently used by at least eight government bodies, is based on insufficient and flawed data; and that the value of a human life is considerably higher than official VPF figures suggest. By comparison with UK figures, the paper notes, the USA’s Department of Transport sets the value of a prevented fatality at around $9.6m (€8.75m).

The paper’s author Philip Thomas, Professor of Risk Management at the University of Bristol, said: “The current VPF used by UK government agencies is based upon a 22-year-old survey of just 167 respondents. This sample size is grossly inadequate at less than a tenth of what would be required to give reasonable precision. Furthermore, the method of interpretation has also been found to be invalid. In real terms what we have is a tool that undervalues human life exerting considerable influence over the safety spending of agencies responsible for transport, nuclear and health.”

Professor Thomas has proposed a new method for determining the value of a human life, the J-value, which measures financial outlay on safety protocols against the projected extension to life expectancy they provide; and which results in a figure closer to £8.59m (€9.65m).

Professor Thomas added: “Life quality lies at the core of J-value. People want any safety measure to maintain or improve their quality of life and this allows us to place a monetary value on the life expectancy that the safety spending will achieve. The J-value is found by dividing the actual cost of the safety measure by the maximum that is reasonable to spend. A value of less than one indicates that the spend is justified. A value greater than one suggests that spending resources may not be justified. The clear disparity between the figure arrived at by the J-value and that still used by the UK Government, the VPF, has obvious, negative implications for the priority assigned to the safety of UK citizens. Replacing the VPF with an objective tool, such as the J-value, is therefore imperative for a responsible government.”

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