Today, 22 June 2020, the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery published its report, ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’.
As an organisation whose purpose is to support the creation of a wellbeing economy in Scotland we are excited to see the prominence given to this goal in the report’s title.
Our initial sense is that there are parts to praise and unfortunately parts that fall short in recognising the type of transformation that could truly transform Scotland into a wellbeing economy.
We welcome the ‘four pillars’ approach laid out in the report, which gives business, people, community, and the environment balanced priority. This is an important step to designing a wellbeing economy, although a true wellbeing economy approach goes one step further to say that business and economic activity must be designed to serve people and planet, not thrive alongside them. After all, what is the benefit of an economy if it does not directly serve the people who sustain it? We would also add that conflating business with the economy in the four pillars seems to miss the vital role of unpaid role of care and social reproduction in families and communities in supporting the market economy. This would be a serious blind spot for a country where the gender equality discussion is better than in other localities.
We are also concerned at the extent to which a desire for ‘growth’ still features prominently in the report’s language. What kind of growth? And for whom? Simply adding ‘inclusive’ and ‘sustainable’ modifiers to growth does not answer either of these vital questions.
Indeed, the answers are the crux of what separates a traditional, growth-driven system from a true wellbeing economy. A wellbeing economy is one that is purposed and designed explicitly for human and ecological wellbeing – economic activity in service of these higher order goals.
In the report’s foreword, Benny Higgins (who led the group tasked with compiling the report’s recommendations) states: ‘Scotland had the ambition to become a robust, wellbeing economy. That is one that generates strong economic growth… and that does so with an unequivocal focus on climate change, fair work, diversity, and equality’. We disagree that a wellbeing economy is about generating “strong economic growth” – a wellbeing economy would ask: ‘what sort of growth – and for whom – is needed for collective wellbeing?’ It is about the economy (and growth where necessary) being in service of delivering collective wellbeing.
For example, we welcome the emphasis on conditionality in business support and recommendations such as a jobs guarantee: the post-covid economy cannot be one where businesses get away with social and environmental harm while young people see their future ebbing away.
Recognition that a wellbeing economy attends to climate change, fair work, diversity, and equality is promising to hear. The report rightly gives prominent focus to green recovery tests, and to circular economy principles.
Again though – and crucially – to truly initiate a wellbeing economy, the restructure must be designed to enable people and planet to flourish while being agnostic to economic growth, not dependent on it.
The Advisory Group’s report is a good starting point, and we welcome the embrace of the ‘wellbeing economy’ concept. The conversation can’t end here – not least when creating a wellbeing economy requires substantial economic transformation. We look forward to continuing the conversation with Government, businesses, and the wider public as we all move into this new era of economic recovery. Scotland has an opportunity to lead the world in truly putting collective wellbeing at the heart of economic policy making and creating an economy that delivers for people and planet first time around.