Mike Danson, Professor of Enterprise Policy and Director of Doctoral Programmes, Heriot-Watt University
Poverty cannot and should not be considered as separate from the rest of the economy and society. It is created and recreated by the system we live in and tolerate. Countries with similar levels of development, inequality and poverty to the UK and Scotland in the early 1970s now have far lower levels of inequity, deprivation, exclusion and unhappiness, and enjoy much higher standards of living and well-being. Having 1 in 4 children in poverty, huge numbers having to use foodbanks, sanctions against the sick and disabled, fear and intolerance of the poor and vulnerable are not inevitable natural developments generated by late capitalism; they are the product and choices of a particular state. And, as such, they can be reversed, there is a different path we can follow to the benefit of all.
The two year referendum campaign allowed levels of debate and engagement not seen in Scotland since at least the end of World War II when the nation decided ‘never again’. Specifically, the cry for ‘freedom’, which has echoed down the centuries, was heard, amplified and applied to Beveridge’s plans to attack and free the people from the five “Giant Evils” in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. The progressive dismantling of that welfare state which promised social security, has been pursued by successive UK governments since the late 1970s. By 2010, the UK had the highest rate of poverty amongst the long term sick and disabled of any country in the European Union. Today their standards of living have fallen, tomorrow austerity cuts will bite deeper into the health, well-being, life satisfaction and hopes for so many in Scotland. Meanwhile the Nordic countries continue to be the most innovative, prosperous and resilient economies and societies in the history of the world; and they have protected the basics of their generous welfare states.
And therein lies the uncomfortable truth for the establishment, more equitable and inclusive societies are more successful in terms of the creation of enterprises, income growth and resilience to recessions. There is an alternative, and it is good! For those of who have been promoting the idea of a Common Weal there is a need to counter the negativity of TINA, of ‘No’, of austerity and “we’re all in this together”. We have published fifty detailed papers on ‘Creative Change and Governance’, ‘Industry and Work’, ‘International and Citizenship’, ‘Resources and Ecology’, ‘Society and Wellbeing’, ‘Tax and Money’ with specific proposals on ‘universalism’[i], addressing poverty[ii], and social security[iii].
Underpinning a compassionate and inclusive society must be an economy that satisfies all our needs and not those determined and revealed by a corrupted market system. Our economy is currently heavily dependent on an over-bloated financial sector, with bankers and speculators privileged and rewarded – and given far greater levels of social security than masses of the poor could ever dream about, while consumerism and unsustainable development are key to the cycle of despair and exploitation. As we demonstrated by looking at how Norway, Sweden, Denmark and others organise their lives, policies and relationships[iv], higher levels of social protection create healthier economies and businesses rather than destroying some constructed ‘work ethic’.
Poverty can be unmade by concerted, dedicated and committed strategies as described in the Common Weal. At a local scale, we have witnessed in the communities which have won back their land under land reform that ordinary people, supported by the rest of us, can liberate and restore their land, natural and people resources to the benefit of the environment, families and enterprises[v].
Walking to the station each morning, passing those waiting for the pharmacy to open for their dose of methadone, is one picture that characterises my Scotland, struggling without hope. Another vision was offered us, by us and for us over the recent months in a thousand meetings and more – of common Scots, wherever they had come from eager to build an energised Scotland, inclusive and welcoming, realising it could slay the great evils that Beveridge had identified. That those who have presided over, benefited from, and promoted Britain’s decline[vi] for the benefit and ends of their own class led the ‘Better Together’ (ironically) and ‘Project Fear’ (no irony intended) opposition to this vision should encourage all who believe in the people to continue to campaign, canvass and inform for a better society. We’re better than this and have the research underpinnings, benchmarks of other small nations, and an active citizenry to ensure that it can happen.
References and further reading
[iv] Whose Economy?, edited by M Danson and K Trebeck, Oxford: Oxfam, 2011; Regional Development in Northern Europe: Peripherality, Marginality and Border Issues, edited by M Danson and P de Souza, Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.
[v] ‘Sustainable development?: building social capital in Gaelic communities’, M Danson and D Chalmers, in Revitalising Gaelic in Scotland: Policy, Planning and Public Discourse, editor W Macleod, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, 2006; ‘Community ownership and sustainable economic development’, M Danson, G Callaghan and G Whittam, Scottish Affairs, 74, 50-71, 2011.
[vi] Going South: Why Britain will have a Third World Economy by 2014, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, Palgrave, 2012.
Professor Mike Danson can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org