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Reposted from the OECD Forum Network

By WEAll Ambassadors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson on behalf of WEAll and the Equality Trust

The coronavirus pandemic is changing the lives of children across the world, with both predictable and unforeseeable short- and long-term effects on children’s development and lifelong well-being. Children are experiencing massive changes in daily routines and education, many in families that are experiencing losses of work, income and loved ones, and fear and anxiety about infection and life beyond the crisis.

In the past, child well-being policies almost inevitably focused on the most vulnerable children – those living in poverty, or in deprived neighbourhoods, those who were refugees, abused or neglected.  In the United Kingdom in recent years, we have had epidemics of knife crime, self-harm and mental illness but these were not accompanied by any policies focused on the underlying root causes of poverty – inequality and austerity. Instead, we saw an emphasis on parenting interventions, as if the wider context were too difficult to tackle. Now, the coronavirus crisis is shifting our perspective, bringing into sharp focus the pre-existing vulnerability of too many children to the politics, policies and practices that perpetuate inequality. We can see that some children are more vulnerable to the impacts of lockdown – school and nursery closures, sheltering in place and physical distancing. But children in some of the more unequal rich countries hardest hit by the pandemic, the United States and United Kingdom, were already less resilient than children in more equal countries, with worse health, well-being and educational attainment. By comparing children in more and less equal societies, we might be able to learn the lessons of how to look after all our children better.

The key to a holistic understanding of how we create population-wide child well-being is grasping the fact that economic inequality – disparities in wealth and income – affects all children within a society. Yes, the poor suffer more, and children living in poverty and deprivation experience a double detriment, and even more so in the current crisis. But there is growing evidence that the effects of living in a more unequal society are felt even among the children of the affluent, well-educated middle and upper classes.

Figure from: Bird P, Pickett KE, Graham H, et al.

“Income inequality and social gradients in children’s height: a comparison of cohort studies from five high-income countries”. BMJ Paediatrics Open 2019; 0:e000568. doi:10.1136/ bmjpo-2019-000568

In our books The Spirit Level (2009) and The Inner Level (2018), we present and interpret the robust and broad evidence of the effects of income inequality on the health and well-being of whole populations. For children, inequality leads to lower child well-being when measured by Unicef indices, as well as worse infant mortality, child obesity, bullying, child maltreatment, teenage pregnancies, educational attainment and social mobility. Indirectly, children are affected by the impact of inequality on parents’ mental and physical health, long working hours, high levels of debt, drug and alcohol abuse and problem gambling.

All of these problems stem from the way in which greater economic inequality increases the importance of social status, class and rank within a society; the way in which material differences create social distances between us. In less equal societies people trust one another less, participate less in civic and cultural life, feel less solidarity with others and suffer more from the day-to-day social comparisons as we experience ourselves through other people’s eyes. There is more anxiety about status, more depression and, on the flip side, more narcissism and self-enhancement as well.  Relationships within wider society and the public realm, in workplaces and schools, and within families are all corrupted by the invidious psychosocial damage caused by inequality. This picture is supported by a wealth of both quantitative and qualitative academic research, across many decades and many disciplines. Brought together, the data tell a coherent story about how desperately we need to reorient our societal goals towards well-being. Politicians tend to think that’s what they’re doing but so often they are clearly not.

Knowledge is the first step in creating change. The OECD’s recent report “Changing the Odds for Vulnerable Children” (2019) will be part of changing the discourse and creating a framework in which to make well-being the primary aim of cross-sector policy making. Intervening to improve child well-being is challenging but we need to step up to the challenges and opportunities for change offered by the coronavirus and demand that policies address root causes and systems so that this generation of children can grow up healthy and resilient. There are many examples of good practice to learn from but one we know well is the Born in Bradford programme. In Bradford, a city in the north of England with high levels of deprivation and ill health, 10 years of collaborative work has created a research-ready, people-powered and data-linked test bed to co-produce, implement and evaluate early life interventions to promote well-being and reduce inequalities. Just as the coronavirus hit, we were building the ActEarly City Collaboratory to provide a whole system environment where the public, scientists, policy leaders and practitioners can work with each other to develop upstream preventive solutions for a healthier, fairer future for children.  Now, the focus has shifted to help the city respond to the immediate crisis and prepare for an inclusive recovery.  We hope that readers of this article will engage with the projects, track our progress and share their own good practices.

Read the OECD’s COVID-19 Policy Responses on Learning Remotely when Schools Close

We are sometimes asked whether the rich and the powerful simply don’t care about children. The answer is, of course, they do – but too often only about their own. That would be less worrying if they used the same schools and health services, but it is dangerous when they don’t. Now, more than ever, we need to foster cultures where we care for each other’s children as for our own, so that we create the policy environment to support all children during and following the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, we need to listen to children as they tell us about their experiences and their hopes and fears for the future, and be guided by them in setting our priorities. John F. Kennedy said that, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”. That is true, but we also need to be alive to the messages children, such as Greta Thunberg, are giving us – about how we have failed them in the past, in the time they could never see, how we are letting them down now as they live through this crisis. They can tell us what we need to do to build their opportunities and their resilience.

Photos: Shutterstock/Liderina and Photo: Shutterstock/Lolostock

Originally published by Doughnut Economics at kateraworth.com

By Kate Raworth, WEAll Ambassador

Today is the launch of the Amsterdam City Doughnut, which takes the global concept of the Doughnut and turns it into a tool for transformative action in the city of Amsterdam. It’s also the first public presentation of the holistic approach to ‘downscaling the Doughnut’ that an international team of us have been developing for more than a year. We never imagined that we would be launching it in a context of crisis such as this, but we believe that the need for such a transformative tool could hardly be greater right now, and its use in Amsterdam has the chance to inspire many more places – from neighbourhoods and villages to towns and cities to nations and regions – to take such a holistic approach as they begin to reimagine and remake their own futures.

The Doughnut was first published in 2012, proposing a social foundation and ecological ceiling for the whole world. Ever since then people have asked: can we downscale the Doughnut so that we can apply it here – in our town, our country, our region? Over the past eight years there have been many innovative initiatives exploring different approaches to doing just that – including for the Lake Erhai catchment in China, for the nations of South Africa, Wales and the UK, and for a comparison of 150 countries.

Today sees the launch of a new and holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut, and we are confident that it has huge potential at multiple scales – from neighbourhood to nation – as a tool for transformative action. Amsterdam is a great place for launching this tool because this city has already placed the Doughnut at the heart of its long-term vision and policymaking, and is home to the Amsterdam Donut Coalition, a network of inspiring change-makers who are already putting the Doughnut into practice in their city.

When the Doughnut meets Biomimicry

This new holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut started out as a playful conceptual collaboration between the biomimicry thinker Janine Benyus and me, as we sought to combine the essence of our contrasting ways of thinking about people and place. It then became a collaborative initiative, led by Doughnut Economics Action Lab (we are so new we don’t have a website yet – but watch this space!) working very closely with fantastic colleagues at Biomimicry 3.8, Circle Economy and C40 Cities, all collaborating as part of the Thriving Cities Initiative.

The result is a holistic approach that embraces social and ecological perspectives, both locally and globally. Applied at the scale of a city, it starts by asking this very 21st century question:

It’s a question that combines local aspiration – to be thriving people in a thriving place – with a global responsibility to live in ways that respect all people and the whole planet. As Janine put it in her characteristically poetic way, ‘when a bird builds a nest in a tree, it takes care not to destroy the surrounding forest in the process’. How can humanity also learn to create settlements big and small that promote the wellbeing of their inhabitants, while respecting the wider living communities in which they are embedded?

To dive into these issues, we explore four interdependent questions, applied in this case to Amsterdam:

These questions turn into the four ‘lenses’ of the City Doughnut, producing a new ‘portrait’ of the city from four inter-connected perspectives. Drawing on the city’s current targets for the local lenses, as well as on the Sustainable Development Goals and the planetary boundaries for the global lenses, we compared desired outcomes for the city against statistical snapshots of its current performance (see the published tool for full details).

To be clear, this city portrait is not a report and assessment of Amsterdam: it is a tool and starting point, ideal for using in workshops to open up new insights and bring about transformative action. The current coronavirus lockdown means that such workshops are on hold at the moment, but changemakers in the city are already finding creative ways to sustain momentum, including through many of the 8 ways that set out below.

Our team at the Thriving Cities Initiative has also worked with city staff to create city portraits for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Portland, Oregon (these are not yet published) and the initial workshops that have been held to date in all three cities have brought together policymakers and change-makers in dynamic and thought-provoking discussions.

Workshops for city officials and community representatives in Philadelphia, Portland and Amsterdam, 2019

And here’s what we think is the real opportunity. The City Portraits that our team has made are what we call public portraits of the cities – made using publicly available targets and data. What if a city were to turn this into its own self portrait, gathering together residents’ lived experiences, their values, hopes and fears, their ideas and initiatives, their own understanding of their deep interconnections with the rest of world? The process of creating such City Self Portraits is, we believe, what will make this tool really take off.

From Public Portrait to City Selfie
Imagining Amsterdam’s City Selfie…

The likelihood of this happening in Amsterdam is high, thanks to the newly launched Amsterdam Donut Coalition: a network of over 30 organisations – including community groups, commons-based organisations, SMEs, businesses, academia and local government – that are already putting Doughnut Economics into practice in their work. Working together they are becoming a catalyst for transformative change, generating inspiration and action within Amsterdam and far beyond.

The Amsterdam Donut Coalition, founding meeting, December 2019

If you are interested in applying this tool for downscaling the Doughnut to your own place – your neighbourhood, village, town, city, region, nation – please do let us know by filling in this short form. Doughnut Economics Action Lab is already working on creating version 2.0 of the methodology and, once ready, we plan to share it on our forthcoming platform, which will make working collaboratively like this far easier and more effective. Our newly created team at DEAL is currently focused on setting up this platform, so please be a little patient, and by the end of May we will get in touch with our plans for taking this downscaling work forward.

Everyone is likewise welcome to leave responses and suggestions about Amsterdam’s City Doughnut, and the City Doughnut tool, below in the Comments section of this blog. I am currently focused on working with DEAL’s fast-growing team, as well as homeschooling my two children, and looking out for my local community – so please do understand that I may not be able to reply to comments personally, but you are of course welcome to comment and discuss with each other.

As we all start thinking about how we will emerge from this crisis, let us seek to be holistic in how we reimagine and recreate the local-to-global futures of the places we live. I believe this newly downscaled Doughnut tool has a great deal to offer and I look forward to seeing it turned into transformative action, in Amsterdam and far beyond.

Read The Amsterdam City Doughnut: a tool for transformative action

Media coverage in The Guardian, Parool and VPRO