May 25, 2016 : Ruth Boyle

Do we need a new economy to tackle inequality?

Making our economy work for the majority will only succeed if the third sector is a key partner

It is not a ground-breaking revelation to announce that the economy, as it stands, has not served the poorest in our society well. Third sector organisations will not be shocked to hear that focusing on a crude interpretation of growth does not help individuals or wider society. The third sector is acutely aware of the inequality and poverty which continues to exist in Scotland.

We know that growth and fairness must go hand-in-hand to overcome inequality. We know that there needs to be changes to the way we are doing the economy to help the most marginalised. But now there is reason to be optimistic that this idea is gathering steam.

On Saturday, the Labour party held a state of the economy conference in central London. The party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called for “a serious debate about how wealth is created, and how that wealth should be shared.” The UK Labour Party appears to have turned its attention to a new style of economics to tackle inequality in the UK. It will be interesting to see if Kezia Dugdale shares this view and positions Scottish Labour to do the same.

the formula is simple: less inequality leads to a stronger, more robust economy

The economy is already a key debate in the Scottish Parliament. Social justice and inclusive economic growth featured prominently in the SNP’s manifesto, and Scottish Labour made pledges around fair work and a “dynamic economy”. There seems to be some consensus that we must generate a competitive, fair economy that creates jobs and opportunities, although the respective parties continue to contest definitions and policy means. Knowing that political events can cause shifts in narratives and priorities, this is a real window of opportunity.

Many of these debates occur in the language of our sector and we must be involved in translating these concepts into practicalities. Following the appropriation and misuse of the living wage concept by the Conservative government in Westminster, real third sector involvement in policy discussion is clearly necessary.

Some of this should be familiar. In 2014, SCVO launched its An Economy for All Report which outlined how we can make the economy work for the many, not just the few. This report outlined four principles for our economy:

  1. The well-being of people across Scotland must be the end goal of our economy
  2. All work must be properly valued, decently paid and secure
  3. The value of unpaid contributions to the economy and society must be recognised
  4. The economy is a part of our environment and we must use our economy to enhance, not destroy, it

There are so many exciting and innovative projects throughout our sector which are already working towards these principles. Eliminating inequality should be our main economic goal in and of itself. However, an equal society has other benefits too. We believe the formula is simple: less inequality leads to a stronger, more robust economy.

These discussions and debates around the economic status quo and how best we can facilitate an economy that benefits everyone are not new. However, as political parties and Parliaments look to how they can harness these arguments into practical policies, the third sector has an important role to play.

Our sector has a wide ranging expertise and holds vast amounts of knowledge about the most marginalised in our society. If we are to put people at the heart of the economy, there must be an important role for the third sector at the heart of policy making.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ruth Boyle