By Dr Gemma Bone Dodds, Trustee (Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland)
This article was originally published in the Friends of the Earth Scotland members magazine, What on Earth 81: How We Build Back Better.
We are at a pivotal moment in human history. Across the world, humanity is going through a shared experience like never before. We have all felt fear, despair, and bewilderment at the vast transformation of our lives as this virus has spread rapidly across every continent.
But this experience has also been experienced very differently and those for whom the economy was not working before the crisis have suffered the most from it. Women. Ethnic minorities. Precarious workers. Inequality causes deaths, and Covid-19 exacerbates this. Poor housing, cold, damp and overcrowded. Insufficient income to provide enough food, medicine, heat and power. Insecure jobs, dangerous and unsanitary conditions. All of these factors have put the most vulnerable on the front line of this epidemic.
Our economy has been consistently telling some people “You are unskilled, you are undeserving, you are low paid”. Yet during this crisis, this ruse – this false vision of the world and of worth – has been unmasked. Instead, with a fearful cry “You must go out to work. Keep the economy going. We need you. You are our key workers. You are our heroes.”
Our response to this crisis has been centred on care. We care for each other by staying at home. Our NHS workers, cleaners, doctors, porters, nurses, paramedics, GPs and receptionists have stepped up, as they always do, to care for those who fall ill, often at great cost to themselves. Our care workers, often some of the lowest paid and least valued workers in society, have stepped across the thresholds of our care homes, knowingly entering a dangerous place, to care for our most precious loved ones. Our communities have set up mutual aid groups, caring for our neighbours and each other.
The basis of humanity is care. This crisis has proven it to be so. But our economy, far from recognising this fundamental need we have, to care and be cared for, seeks to create conditions which make care difficult. Long working hours. Insufficient parental leave. Low wages and high living costs. A manufactured drive to consume. Quantity over quality.
Enough. There is another way.
What if our economy could celebrate, recognise and enable the conditions for us all to care and be cared for? What if we could explicitly design an economy that enables us all to thrive and live on a healthy planet?
We can. And we must.
We at Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland work to show that there is another way. We believe that it is possible to design and create an economy that works for both people and planet. End discrimination and precarious work. Work less and have more time to care. Ensure sufficiency for all. Live within our planetary means.
This is not a utopian ideal (unlike endless growth on a finite planet). We can see the shape of the world we can create in the present. There is much that already exists that we can build upon, especially in Scotland. These are the foundations upon which we will build back better including: basic income, circular economies, just transition, community wealth building, the Scottish National Investment Bank and more. We have an engaged and innovative civil society movement full of ideas and the passion to make them happen. We have fantastic businesses and social enterprises who are already showing how to do business better. We have a Government that is willing to talk about the environment, inclusivity and creating a wellbeing economy.
But what is built back after the crisis will depend on how brave we are to let go of the old world, which may feel safe and normal and comforting. We must be willing to ask radical questions and explore innovative solutions. We cannot collapse into old patterns. This can also be exciting – to create, dream and design. It is a journey for which we must prepare, but with the ultimate aim of getting to our destination: a caring wellbeing economy which works for people and the planet.
If our destination has changed, we also need a different measure of progress, one richer and more illustrative of how we are doing as a society. For me, there is no more beautiful way to show the difference between the old and the new than the example used by my colleague Dr Katherine Trebeck. Rather than measure GDP, she asks, “Why not ask countries to measure the number of girls riding bikes to school?”
Where GDP gives us an idea of our economic output, girls on bikes tells us so much more. For example, if girls are riding bikes to school then: girls are going to school, bikes are a common mode of transport, it is safe for children to cycle, there is likely to be less pollution, we are likely to be healthier, girls are empowered and unafraid – and if more girls cycle to school, then more boys will, too.
An economy that measures progress through girls on bikes would be a caring economy. It would focus on creating the conditions we need to care for one another and the planet. It will be hard for us to get there, and we will need to plan our journey as we go, but we all know we need to make it. There is too much at stake to do anything less.