IGP Stories

Prosperity for Whom? Systemic Injustice and the UK Economy

The UK cost of living crisis has thrown the government’s Levelling Up agenda into sharper relief. The fall in real incomes is already having uneven effects across the income distribution, hitting low-income households the hardest. With inflation at its highest rate in three decades, and the value of benefits dwindling, the picture is only set to get worse over the coming months and years. The long-awaited Levelling Up white paper signals a welcome shift towards greater devolution and community empowerment. But critics doubt whether the emphasis on place-based inequality – a strategy that skims over the complex and intersectional issues present within neighbourhoods, households, and social groups – is sufficiently bold and transformative.

As the pandemic has demonstrated all too clearly, British society is plagued by all kinds of structural inequalities, including those of ethnicity, race, and gender. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, and recent political scandals in the UK, transformative action is needed to restore faith in governments, strengthen democracy, and increase trust in institutions. This will entail putting social value before economic value; prioritising the views of the most marginalised groups in society; and paying attention to the hyper-local ways in which social and economic problems manifest. Other issues have been reflected and refracted through the prism of the pandemic, too. Hostile immigration policies, the climate emergency, wealth disparities, xenophobia, institutional misogyny, gender-based violence, child poverty – not to mention the crisis in adult social care – these are all issues that plague UK society in the 2020s, underlining the need for a new social contract.

New IGP working paper Prosperity for Whom? Systemic Injustice and the UK Economy

Understanding how we got to where we are is crucial if we are to successfully re-design prosperity for the 21st Century. A new IGP working paper Prosperity for Whom? Systemic Injustice and the UK Economy weaves past and present case studies into a critical discussion of the UK economy and its baked-in, systemic inequities, arguing that ‘Levelling Up’ will not work against the backdrop of a shrinking social safety net and a new raft of neoliberal policies.

  1. Policymakers need to take a whole-systems approach to change, appreciating the ways in which different kinds of systemic injustice – racial, environmental, gendered, generational, and geographic – are interlinked.
  2. We need to step outside the growth and development frameworks that have created systemic problems in the first place.
  3. The past four centuries of economic growth have created spaces and places where some livelihoods are more precarious than others. Even within regions, social groups are often on very different pathways and trajectories, depending on intersectional inequities and historical experience.
  4. The changes proposed in the UK Government Levelling Up White Paper do not depend on a deep critique of structural injustice; nor do they appreciate the hyperlocal ways in which problems manifest in certain areas.

In the working paper Prosperity for Whom? Systemic Injustice and the UK Economy, we develop these arguments through a discussion of four problem areas: the health care system, the labour system, the food system, and the environmental crisis. We conclude with reference to some of the transformative work that is going on around the UK at the community level, highlighting potential pathways to a more just and sustainable future.

Read the working paper here

Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

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