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Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop declared in Parliament yesterday that “the time of a wellbeing economy has well and truly arrived.”

Speaking about plans to get the Scottish economy moving again after the covid-19 lockdown, Hyslop was clear that business as usual should not be the default:

“We must be brave and bold and rethink the world of work,” she said as she outlines the three steps required to restart Scotland’s economy in 14 separate sectors, stressing that it must be done safely and will involve…

  • Measures to suppress the virus
  • Guidance that supports fair and safe workplaces
  • The right structures for workplace regulation

Encouragingly, she went on to say that we “need a revolution in economic thinking that stimulates and values cooperative sharing of risk and reward, to rethink what value is”.

While touching on workers’ rights, remote working and a green recovery, Ms Hyslop added that “collective endeavour” should replace “old thinking on battling over wealth distribution, which has never properly delivered”.

See more coverage on BBC News.

Scotland is one of four members of the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership, alongside New Zealand, Iceland and Wales. Find out more about this initiative here and about WEAll Scotland – the dedicated Scottish hub of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance – here.

WEAll was honoured to be part of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Limits to Growth at the UK Parliament this week.

Chaired by Green MP Caroline Lucas, and convened by the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity, the APPG provides a platform for cross-party dialogue on shared and lasting prosperity in a world of environmental, social and economic limits.

This session was the group’s AGM and it had a special focus on Wellbeing Economics. Professor Tim Jackson, a WEAll Ambassador, had prepared this briefing paper on tackling growth dependency.

The paper sets out a three-fold strategy for moving beyond GDP by: changing the way we measure success; building a consistent policy framework for a ‘wellbeing economy’; and addressing the ‘growth dependency’ of the economy.

In particular, the briefing recommends:

  • a determined effort to develop new measures of societal wellbeing and sustainable prosperity;
  • the full integration of these measures into central and local government decision-making processes;
  • the alignment of regulatory, fiscal and monetary policy with the aims of achieving a sustainable and inclusive wellbeing economy;
  • the establishment of a formal inquiry into reducing the ‘growth dependency’ of the UK economy;
  • the development of a long-term, precautionary ‘post-growth’ strategy for the UK.

A packed room of MPs and peers from all political parties was addressed first by Peter Schmidt, rapporteur to the European Economic and Social Committee’s (EESC) recent ‘own initiative opinion’ on The sustainable economy we need, then by Lisa Hough-Stewart, Communications and Mobilisation lead at WEAll.

Lisa focused her remarks on the need for new economic narratives, and the role of policy makers in helping shape those narratives. Explaining the work of WEAll and its members, she also gave details of the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative (WEGo) which has Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand collaborating towards their shared goal of promoting economies based on wellbeing.

A robust and positive discussion followed the presentations, with clear interest in wellbeing economy ideas from all attendees and encouraging suggestions for driving the agenda forward at UK level.

Caroline Lucas has raised an Early Day Motion in Parliament in support of the findings on the EESC opinion, and the principles of a wellbeing economy. It is garnering support with more MPs across the political spectrum – you can view the motion here, and if you live in the UK, share it with your MP asking them to support it.

By Lisa Hough-Stewart, WEAll Communications and Mobilisation lead

On Wednesday 10 July, Caroline Lucas MP secured a debate in the UK House of Commons about ‘Economic growth and environmental limits’.

The Green MP made a powerful speech, focused on “why and how our current economic model, which puts GDP growth above everything else, must change fundamentally, fast.”

Quoting Greta Thunberg’s famous statement that ‘our house is on fire’, Lucas argued that “the GDP growth obsession is the obstacle blocking the door to the emergency exit.”

Speaking on behalf of the UK Government, The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Robert Jenrick gave a response which continued to be centred on economic growth, stating that “it is now more important than ever that the Government and institutions such as the Treasury, which is at the heart of this debate, confront head on the question of how we continue to grow the economy while protecting our environment and tackling climate change.”

However, Jenrick did agree with the importance of moving beyond GDP, going on to say that “GDP undoubtedly has its limitations and should not be seen as an all-encompassing measure of welfare and wellbeing, and we entirely accept that it was never designed to be”.

Representatives of other parties taking part in the debate also supported this sentiment.

Ahead of the debate, Caroline Lucas published a piece in Politics Home which set out her arguments in full detail, and referenced Katherine Trebeck’s ideas as well as those of other WEAll members and partners.

Considering alternatives to GDP, she wrote: “To do all this we need to start measuring what matters. The economist Katherine Trebeck has one suggestion: ‘Why not get countries to measure the number of girls who bicycle to school? What clearer yardstick could convey so much about progress in women’s education, green transport, health and poverty alleviation in a single number?'”

Both in the article and in the Westminster debate, Lucas heavily cited the new report from WEAll member The European Environmental Bureau (EEB)  which demonstrates that efforts to decouple economic growth from environmental harm, known as ‘green growth’, have not succeeded and are unlikely to succeed in their aim.

The full transcript of the Westminster debate can be accessed via Hansard here.

This is a transcript of Katherine Trebeck’s remarks to the APPG on Wellbeing Economics at the United Kingdom Parliament on 11 June 2019

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance works across the world and across sectors to build an economy in service of human and ecological wellbeing.

Understanding where that agenda is up to can be understood by looking at:
1 The forgers (those policy makers grasping the mettle and putting a wellbeing economy agenda into practice)

2 The frontiers (where are we standing now and what is the next challenge?); and

3 What is fraught (the barriers and the tensions still to be worked through)?

Forgers

The forgers are the policy makers – civil servants and politicians – rolling up their sleeves and delivering the sort of changes needed. You see this in Scotland with its National Performance Framework and its leadership of the Wellbeing Economy Government partnership. You see it in other initiatives such as work on making the economy circular and businesses more inclusive. And just today the announcement that Scottish Enterprise would shift its attention to supporting businesses that deliver decent work, fairness and tackle inequality.

Other forgers are Wales with its Future Generations Commissioner and New Zealand with its Wellbeing Budget. US states such as Maryland and Vermont are adopting the Genuine Progress Indicator and Oregon has a 10 Year Budget. Iceland is forging ahead with action for gender equality and Costa Rica on biodiversity.

These examples show embracing the wellbeing economy agenda and forging ahead is not just about scattering the word “wellbeing” in the title of policy documents or in the text of political speeches – it is about robust change in policy and decision making.

 

Frontiers

And that brings us to the next frontier we are facing. These are pockets of good practice, but their isolation and existence next to policies that are counter to a wellbeing economy agenda speaks to an incoherence in policy regimes. Mixed messages are being given – but at least mixed is better than the message of the past in which was a narrow fixation on GDP GDP GDP!

Now, we are at a point where acceptance that GDP is flawed is widespread – the question is now how not if GDP should be replaced (or at least complemented as a measure of progress and national success).

The next stage has to be how to take these patches of good practice and make a quilt? And that is about joining up the work of the forgers so the economy itself is changed. Repurposing and then reorienting decisions and budgets and incentives and procedures and power in government departments. Such as recognising that if the education department does its job well then the police department will see savings, that if teams looking after local parks and green space do their job well then health services will be under less pressure.

 

And what is still fraught?

Clearly, the timeliness of data is a challenge. GDP is sticky as a supposed measure of progress because it is reported on frequently and people think they know what it means. And while there is a plethora of data relevant to a wellbeing economy collected and collated, it needs to be better used and decision makers scrutinised according to this information.

The media is also a constraint – until the morning news shows, the day after a national budget is announced, ask the finance minister what it means for increasing collective wellbeing instead of economic growth, then this agenda is still marginal. And until the definition of an economic crisis shifts away from incremental falls in GDP to questions around economic inequality, numbers of people feeling financially insecure, the numbers turning to food banks and the extent to which people can and do access green space, then we’ve got work to do.

And finally there is the fraught question of definitions. Is it a matter of taking subjective wellbeing as the definitive measure or alongside societal or collective wellbeing with SWB as a component part?

There are questions on the adequacy of both – is SWB too anthropocentric? Inadequately attentive to economic inequalities? Are we talking about hedonic or eudemonic?

And for collective wellbeing there are also questions – who defines it? How is it measured and what proxies make sense? Who is the collective? And over what time period are we looking?

But these slightly fraught issues not withstanding, the work of the forgers and where the frontiers have been pushed show that while there is work still to do, progress has been made.

 

 

 

 

In conjunction with the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, and Scotland’s Futures Forum, WEAll Scotland held a seminar on the idea of Scotland as a wellbeing economy.

The seminar was chaired by Gordon Lindhurst MSP, convener of the Committee, and featured a presentation from Dr Katherine Trebeck, Policy and Knowledge Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland, on the concept of and reasons for a wellbeing economy, and the work of WEAll Scotland.

Listen to this podcast to hear what happened at the seminar.

 

Other members of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland also participated, with Peter Kelly from the Poverty Alliance and Andrew Cave from Baillie Gifford providing perspectives on why their organisations are involved.

Read more here.

 

Photo credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament