The consequences of inequality and our chance to choose a different path
18 November 2020
Launching our Manifesto for the 2021-26 Scottish Parliament, Jackie Brock explains why, in the wake of the pandemic, we must turn towards a wellbeing economy.
How can we and our children’s sector partners make a difference over the next five years? It’s the big question we kept asking ourselves as we put together this Manifesto for the 2021-26 Scottish Parliament in the face of the gravest public health crisis of the past century. The answer lies not just in demanding action from political parties but taking the lead ourselves. It’s the tail-end of a punishing year, but this still feels like a moment when we can choose a different path.
In 2009, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s influential book The Spirit Level investigated the baleful consequences of anti-egalitarian thinking and policymaking. Eleven years on the pandemic has exposed this reality in the starkest terms, even to those who previously chose to look away.
As Professor Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Health at the University of Edinburgh, said in a recent interview: “Covid-19 has revealed from all sides how unequal our society is: during lockdown, whether you could escape to country estates and enjoy it, or whether you were working class, stuck at home with children or having to go to work every day.”
But out of this shared realisation have emerged new, strikingly progressive policy ideas committed to a permanent recalibration of wealth and power. Central to these is the concept of the wellbeing economy, reflected in the work of Dr Katherine Trebeck of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. We’re currently collaborating with Dr Trebeck, the Carnegie Trust UK and the Cattanach Trust to raise awareness of what a robust wellbeing approach to the Scottish budget would mean, focusing on the first 1001 days of a child’s life.
Development of the wellbeing economy, and the attention being turned to it, is an example of the radicalism that will be required over the next five years. It is deeply connected to a sense of social and environmental justice and the concerns of young people, and it will underpin how we deliver on many of the Manifesto calls we have brought together.
I’m also encouraged by strides in policy and legislation that predate the pandemic. The Equal Protection Act, the Scottish Government’s promise of UNCRC incorporation ‘to the max’ and the Independent Care Review all signal the extent to which children’s voices have entered the political discourse and the potency of collective campaigning.
Equal Protection finally corrects a gross imbalance in rights. Among its many virtues, UNCRC incorporation will equip young people with a legal yardstick to which they can refer government when experience of poverty renders their rights unfulfilled. And meeting the challenges made by young people in the Care Review will be an early test of how meaningful the commitment to change is across every organisation in Scotland.
These examples tell us that entrenched institutional worldviews can be shifted through public pressure – even if that pressure takes years to pay off. They tell us that, yes, campaigns, influencing work and Manifestos like this one really do matter.
But the experience of Covid makes clear that, beyond incremental progress, we now need a deeper and more wholehearted restructuring of society, based on redistributing power to children, young people and families who’ve never had it before. Taken together the calls in our Manifesto make that case, and we hope you’ll support them.