A Wellbeing Economy is an economic system that prioritizes wellbeing for all beings – including people, wildlife, and planet – over short-term financial growth. The economy is currently seen as the end-all-be-all in terms of success on a national and societal level. This means that economic growth is the goal in and of itself, and how we achieve that growth or what we do with it is not important. The Wellbeing Economy movement, on the other hand, provides a framework in which the economy is simply a tool to promote wellbeing for everyone in society. Rather than use the economic system to generate massive profits for the wealthy, a Wellbeing Economy seeks to inclusively improve the lives of all people.
OneNature is proud to be a member of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll). WEAll is an international network of groups and individuals who seek to connect their stories to elevate a global narrative whereby the factors that determine success are health, happiness, and connection. With this partnership, we hope to ensure the metrics of a Wellbeing Economy will include wildlife. Understanding the overall value of wildlife and nature to economic systems and to wellbeing will be essential if we are to shift to a Wellbeing Economy.
Here at OneNature, we are thrilled to see all the work that has been done in recent years to promote the inclusion of nature, particularly wildlife, in wellbeing values. Multiple studies and reports demonstrate the critical importance of natural systems to our wellbeing. For instance, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) released a report in 2019 titled Animals are Key to Human Development. The report states, “With the sixth extinction crisis upon us, it is more critical than ever for policy makers to link conservation and animal welfare with sustainable development.” This idea has gained momentum as the global pandemic showed exactly what can happen when wild animals are irresponsibly captured and consumed for their economic value. Earlier this year, the World Bank published a study that concluded wildlife conservation through ecotourism would be an effective method of restoring the post-pandemic economy. The conclusions and recommendations in this study highlight the links between wildlife and the wellbeing of people.
We have a good idea of the work that needs to be done. The current economic paradigm tends to treat nature like a financial asset from which humans can take and take. We live in a backwards world where many people believe a tiger – and many other species – is worth more dead than alive. Nature is not infinite, so if this attitude persists, our planet and all its inhabitants, including human beings, will suffer. Instead, we deserve a future where the economic system serves all people, animals, and the planet – not the other way around.
OneNature is currently involved in several on-the-ground efforts to research and determine how wildlife conservation can be included in the policy and practice of a Wellbeing Economy. The goal of OneNature and other WEAll partners is to generate a world where wellbeing for all beings is of greater importance than short-term economic success. Working with other like-minded organizations connected by WEAll will allow us to create change from the bottom up, starting with local communities and together making our voices heard by those at the very top. Building connections through WEAll allows us to practice one of the primary goals of a Wellbeing Economy, which is to stay connected – connected to other people, connected to the planet, and connected to the wildlife that shares our planet with us.
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New Zealand is aiming to adopt a wellbeing economy approach in its economic policy. The Government, for example, presented the world’s first Wellbeing Budget to Parliament on 30 May 2019.
Against that background, Paul Dalziel and Caroline Saunders prepared a Research Briefing in September 2020. It summarises lessons learned in the initial New Zealand experience with the wellbeing economy approach. The authors are the Deputy Director and Director of the Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit at Lincoln University, New Zealand.
You can access the Research Briefing from the Lincoln University archive here.
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The world of sustainability is confusing. With the drive towards net-zero targets increasing and the pressure of COP26 happening in Scotland this year, it’s easy to think that business is expected to make a quantum leap.
In reality, it’s a journey that we are already on. Many businesses are already on their wellbeing journey. They just don’t know it yet because the language used creates barriers instead of connection.
WEAll Scotland has partnered with Scottish Enterprise (via the Co-operative Development Scotland service) and Remarkable to explore how businesses in Scotland are active in creating a wellbeing economy and how they can do more to contribute to fairer, more inclusive working practices in Scotland.
There are also twenty-one supporting partners helping us by sharing the survey with their networks:
Business in the Community
Community Enterprise in Scotland
Development Trusts Association Scotland
Institute of Directors
Linwood Community Trust
Net Zero Community
North Ayrshire Council
RSA – Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce
Scotland CAN B
Scottish Council for Development & Industry
Scottish Football Club
Scottish Institute of Business Leaders
Scottish Business Network
Social Investment Scotland
VisitScotland Business Events
This is a powerful example of collaboration for a wellbeing economy.
But why do we need a wellbeing economy?
A couple of weeks ago, my mum told me how a friend of the family had killed himself. As a farmer, he turned to renting out caravans to support himself because he couldn’t survive from what he made from the land. With Covid-19 regulations, he had no source of additional income.
Farmers have a high suicide rate, but we don’t talk about it. They are victims of an economic system designed to exploit people and nature.
Last year, my sister-in-law’s nephew found his friend dead from a drug overdose. He is 17 and has already lost two more friends to suicide. They too are victims of an economic system that doesn’t work.
When I was seven, I nearly died from an asthma attack caused by air pollution. I am a survivor of an economic system that doesn’t work. If you’re reading this, so are you.
It’s time for the economic system to change. A wellbeing economy is a way of preventing needless deaths. It puts people and nature at the heart of our economic system because we are the economy.
Business has an essential role to play in this transition. Yet too often the actions of big business pollute how we view the way business is done.
As an entrepreneur and business owner, I deeply care about those who work for me and for the community I live in. That’s where the journey of a wellbeing business starts.
And that’s why I’m working on behalf of WEAll Scotland to create a survey on business and the wellbeing economy.
If you’re a business (of any kind and structure), we’d love for you to take part.
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Positive and empowering messaging around a Wellbeing Economy is incredibly important and a vital part of our work in catalysing the transition toward a different economic system. On January 20, Positive Money, NEON, PIRC and WEAll, hosted a webinar to present findings on the ‘howto’ of effective messaging around a Wellbeing Economy to a diverse audience. The discussion officially launched the new Wellbeing Economy Messaging guide, which you can find here.
Dora (NEON) introduced the guide and provided 4 key messaging tips from the guide:
Relating to the first point, shared value is a key tenant to beginning conversations around changing our economic system. What values can we agree on that can underpin our economy? WEAll and its members created the 5 WEAll Needs that showcase the values we believe to represent a Wellbeing Economy:
Dora spoke about how it is key to ensure that people know that they are a part of the economy and can contribute to its development. Most people continue to believe that the economy = money. However, we are the economy and therefore, have the ability to change it.
A feature of the guide that is incredibly useful is a list of Messaging Do’s and Don’ts:
During the webinar, we discussed the importance of shared language. This list above provides the language that we suggest using in order to shape people’s understanding of a Wellbeing Economy and how people can contribute to its development.
After Dora’s presentation, we ended the call with a rich discussion with the audience; we’re sharing some of the key questions, comments, and resources discussed. Watch the webinar to learn the answers to the questions asked below. Questions that were not answered on the call, are answered in italic. For privacy, we’ve removed last names.
From Robert : How do you deal with words like ‘capitalism’? Do you actively avoid them?
From Madis : Instead of capitalism, some suggest to use the term “growthism”, which sounds more neutral. What are your thoughts?
From Rhiannon : Can you give any more examples of that common ground starting point? What shared values should we lead with?
From JOANNA : How much does the word ‘wellbeing’ resonate with people? Is it understood what it means?
From jo : Absolutely don’t problematise, but if we are trying to say the economy as it is, harms people, many people will think ‘really?’ as they live very comfortable lifestyles. How do we persuade them this is not so?
From Morven (she/her) – Sustain : Question – what about communicating to people we know are quite opposed to our ideas? i.e. to national govt, or specific Tory politicians. When someone has ideological preconceptions, they will turn off to certain messaging but listen up when they hear things like ‘jobs creation’.
From Roger: GDP is a measure of income. How do we talk about GDP without addressing people’s incomes?
From Juliet (she/her):
1. Can you share some do/donts on avoiding the elidiing the goals of a wellbeing economy with a wellness/yoga/healthy eating frame?
2. Are there good ways of responding to the attack ‘but the economy does currently depend on growth?’
From Hayley : Have you explored any messaging with ‘ordinary people’ / people outside our ‘bubbles’?
From Bridget: ECG : How can we collaborate more between our networks to use case study examples of practical tools, models and approaches of what is working now in practice to create wellbeing economies locally and regionally?
From jack : Thanks so much for that Dora. How do we try to make this seem less radical/revolutionary and more common sense, given that we don’t hear much on this from the likes of Labour?
From Linda (Loving Earth Project) : I agree with Joanna on jargon
From Rhiannon : I think people can connect and understand the word wellbeing a lot more than other economic concepts
From Linda (Loving Earth Project) : Whose « wellbeing » is the immédiate question.
From Alice, Equally Ours (she/her) : And on top of if people understand ‘wellbeing economy’, do they see it as a legitimate and important goal or as an unrealistic ‘nice-to-have’?
ANSWER: It depends on the audience. It seems the reasons why a Wellbeing Economy is important are becoming ever clearer. Our current economy is incredibly fragile as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown. This is obvious to many. There are still the die-hards that are not going to accept a change in the system as they may be benefiting hugely from it. The WEGo partnership shows that there are a number of countries that are serious about undertaking efforts to shift towards a Wellbeing Economy, which is positive for the movement as a whole.
From Auska : Do you think this messaging should also translate into changes in visual communication and graphic design?
ANSWER: Absolutely. If you know of anyone that would be willing to do some of this work on a volunteer basis, please let Isabel know.
From James : On the “wellbeing economy” point being jargon… I suspect I’ll immediately turn people off with this one without a lot of further information. “Get with the real world” 🙂
From Sally she/her : yes me too – ditto to Juliet’s question 1) re ensuring we don’t end up leading people to be thinking we’re talking about individual wellbeing/wellness
From Peter : The trick is to be short and snappy, and to realise that we are trying to put across what seems like incredibly complex issues for people, and questions such as ‘who’s going to pay for this?’ will almost inevitably surface.
From Mila P’s : true. one word has different meanings for different people. meeting people where they are at kind of mindset. And that comes to mind, who is the audience ?
From francine : I’ve read that Scot Gov is quite into the wellbeing economy, as are some other smaller country govs like new zealand and denmark…is your wellbeing economy promotion today all part of this same thing?
From Peter : I would urge that we all get acquainted with the basics – at least – of Modern Monetary Theory
From Jon : I like wellbeing as you can link it to people (the meaningful and fulfilling journey/ destination) and the planet (the outer ring of the doughnut). I agree with Rachel it is wide umbrella.
From francine : In recent years, before wellbeing was linked to wellbeing economy, the word wellbeing has always been linked to mental health…
From Siddhartha (Medact) : I Organise healthcare workers to call for economic change. this guide is super helpful. we are working right now to call for financial support for people to self isolate. we are planning to also campaign on liveable incomes (wages and benefits) and secure housing as well. what advice would you have of communicating theses specific issues that fall under the need for a wellbeing economy
From Linda (Loving Earth Project) : Isn’t it about a whole social-political-system rather than just ‘economy’.
ANSWER: Absolutely yes. One may argue that the economy IS the whole social-political system.
From martin: In relation to growth, is there anything to be gained from redefining what we commonly mean by “economic activity” to embrace activities that create wellbeing?
ANSWER: This is a great idea. When you think about it, ‘economic activity’ is rather vague. Curious what these activities could be defined as..
From Tabea : In Wales we have a “wellbeing of future generations act”, and “wellbeing goals” set in law – it does seem to resonate with the public as well as politicians (…although someone will always try and redefine it to suit themselves….)
From jack. : Talking about a fairer economy can work quite well as right? As fairness resonates with people.
From Mila: There are at least 81 types of new economies, how does wellbeing economy collaborate either these others?
From Tamsyn (FrameWorks Institute) : @Jack: fairness is a tricky values frame. It can trigger zero sum thinking, or an evaluation of individual deservingness. We need to think beyond resonance, to ‘where does this particular value take people’?
From Lisa : @Tabea – there is a Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) hub emerging in Wales and Wales is a member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership. More info on WEAll Cymru here if you’re interested in connecting with them https://wellbeingeconomy.org/cymru-wales. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want the details
From francine H (Melrose) : I like the idea of new language and words. You gave a few examples – THIS gov rather than THE gov…words like fulfillment and meaningful lives…and the positive concept that everything human ddesigned can be redesigned. Could be useful to publish a whole list of ‘replacement’ words/ vocabulary that can quickly become mainstream and alter our way of thinking?
ANSWER: Yes. The start of this work is in the guide itself. Will note to continue as it’s useful 🙂
From Linda (Loving Earth Project) : A system that dépends on growth is doomed to failure in a ‘spaceship earth’.
From Donald : This is all very well for academics and activists, but where exactly does the debate about wellbeing happen with ordinary people at the grassroots?
ANSWER: In short, it starts with small conversations amongst each other about what we want to see in our futures. Back to shared values. What values do you have with your neighbor who may be of an opposing party. Can you agree on some? This begins to shift our framework away from just economy = money = good to economy = people flourishing = good.
From Lisa : A clear distinction is that the wellbeing economy is about shared, societal wellbeing rather than individual wellbeing
From Linda (Loving Earth Project) : Is the phrase « the common good’ a useful one?
From Peter : it often seems to me that current mainstream capitalist economics is based on a kind of quasi-religious concepts, like ‘balancing the books’, ‘staying on top of debt’, ‘living within your means’, etc. which lead to the ‘wrong conversation’. it’s finding the punchy messages that take us ‘through’ these quasi-religious concepts, and makes our points.
From Laura : Just a fyi as a small real life example or what works with current govt audiences, we tweaked the second sentence of this EDM on Carnegie’s report on Gross Domestic Wellbeing in order to get Tracy Crouch as a sponsor. Before it said something like: “gdp growth is a poor measure of progress” as you’ll see it’s a bit softer now: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/57830/gross-domestic-wellbeing (leaving aside the ridiculousness of EDMs as a format for communicating anything…)
From Juliet (she/her) : Great answers, thank you! Really love the ‘which bits of the garden’ metaphor
From Lisa : @Donald – we’ve run some fantastic community sessions on a wellbeing economy in Scotland where people were very energised in design sessions for what a wellbeing economy would mean where they are. People know what is needed locally, you’re absolutely right that the conversation needs to be out of the bubble!
From Mila: if it’s not growth as measurement criteria, what about collaborating with the living system economy folks? Align economy to how it impacts all life forms , focussing on shared prosperity?
ANSWER: This is a part of the goal, yes. Shared prosperity, human flourishing, these are the terms to use to shift the metrics we use to measure ‘success’.
From Bridget: ECG : Economy for the Common Good has the concept of the Common Good Product as an alternative to GDP ecogood.org
From Peter : I think often an essential concept to get across is that a household/individual’s budget is not the same as a State/Governments’ budget.
From Laura : Not a very important Q, but wonder whether there are any good examples of business comms on wellbeing economy or closely related that we can also draw on? This springs to mind: https://www.imperative21.co/
From Hayley : Would love to connect with PIRC as they are also based in Wales
From David Thomas : Partly related and may be of some interest, we at Social Value International are supporting and championing a UK campaign called ‘How Do Companies Act’ looking to reform company law and regulation to better protect people and planet, and also looking to replicate this in other countries. www.howdocompaniesact.org
From Mila : yes collaboration 🙂 .. there are already 81 new types of economies… why work in silos?
From Lisa Hough-Stewart : Bridget, let’s continue that conversation…the idea of having a shared international PR person perhaps across orgs could be very exciting (I’m comms lead at WEAll, just back from mat leave) – email@example.com
From Mila : the only part of collaboration to may be mindful is about focussing on the best interest of the whole rather than the self-interest of one,like living systems naturally do .. ie trees in forests, bees, ants etc
From francine H (Melrose) : @david – great point – make it legal – in the same way as there’s a campaign to make ecocide illegal!
From Caroline she/her : feasta.org (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability) very happy to network too – global focus, and some focus on Ireland too
From David : @Francine, thank you! Will look into the ecocide campaign!
From David, SCCAN : Such rich ideas – hopefully helping all our social justice and global justice and climate justice and racial justice movements to achieve engaging, ways of hooking citizens into a different narrative which looks forward to the future we all seek. Great collaboration. Thank you from someone involved in grassroots climate campaigns – look out for Transition – Bounce Forward Summit that Transition Network and ControlShift are running 3-20 March
From safia minney : Why not “New Economics” rather than Well being economy.
ANSWER: A ‘new’ economy infers that this has never been done before. When in fact, these economies may exist in other culturesor have existed before our time. A Wellbeing Economy also embedded int he name, sets a clear focus.
We asked Meg Thomas, Head of Policy, Participation, and Projects at Includem, to tell us about the work being done at Includem and how it relates to the wellbeing economy. Read her guest blog below.
At Includem, we work 24/7, 365 days a year, to support families when they need it the most. We provide intensive, bespoke support to young people and families in challenging circumstances, building solid relationships of trust to help young people realise their full potential.
For many of the young people and families we support, entrenched poverty is the most common and persistent issue they face. This has of course been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our families report regular issues affording the basics, telling us they struggle to put food on the table, pay the electric bill, and cover the costs of internet access. Social security payments are too low, wages are often insufficient, and the cost of living is too high. This in turn has caused a deterioration in mental health.
That is why discussions of a wellbeing economy are so greatly welcomed – a shift towards a social understanding of the economy beyond the narrow parameters of GDP could provide a vital framework (and impetus) for policies that end poverty and give families such as those we support a strong and reliable financial foundation.
To develop a wellbeing economy, it is crucial that the voices of those at the margins of society – who face the sharpest consequences of current economic policy – are at its heart. The increased emphasis on lived experience in policy development across Scotland gives us reason to be hopeful this can happen.
Initiatives such as Get Heard Scotland enable those affected by poverty to have their voices heard on the policies and decisions that impact their lives; Youth Justice Voices has given young people with care and justice experience a direct route to shape national policy and practice; and The Promise has put those with experience of the care system it is set to transform, front and centre.
At Includem, we too have focussed on amplifying the voices of our young people and families, conducting research on Digital Access and Poverty to highlight the key issues they face, as well as ensuring young people’s lived experience shapes our policy submissions to the Scottish Government.
But while progress is being made in Scotland, there are significant engagement barriers that must be dismantled to ensure marginalised voices are fully and authentically involved at all stages and in all areas of policymaking, service design and delivery.
Without access to equipment, the finances for broadband costs and electricity, or sufficient digital literacy and confidence, many families are unjustly excluded from fully participating in society.
A key obstacle is digital exclusion, an issue that has become particularly prominent over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without access to equipment, the finances for broadband costs and electricity, or sufficient digital literacy and confidence, many families are unjustly excluded from fully participating in society. Their voices are lost in the process. It is imperative that children, young people, and families can participate in decisions that affect them, and digital access is a crucial pillar in ensuring these rights are upheld.
From our experience of delivering intensive family support services, we also know that both stigma and a distrust of statutory services can prevent young people and families from engaging – particularly as families in poverty are 10 times more likely to have their children on the child protection register and to come into care.
Regrettably, this is rarely considered in discussions of tackling poverty and centring the voices of lived experience. I was particularly struck by Dr Calum Webb’s piece on Child protection and removal: the hidden inequality where he remarks on reviewing thirteen of the top selling and topcited books on the topic of inequality, injustice, and its consequences, including four of the highest cited books on the public health consequences of inequality, only to discover none of these books had a dedicated chapter about child protection or social work.
Despite the fact that families in poverty are more likely to receive state intervention, the most deprived local authorities in England “have seen the greatest cuts to their preventative spending, fuelling more disruptive and damaging forms of intervention.” I would argue that true preventative spending addresses the underlying causes of poverty, not the behaviours resulting from it.
Fundamentally, parents should not fear being separated from their children because of poverty – a structural inequality which current economic and social policies perpetuate.
I am Australian. I had an aunt who was from Australia’s First Nation. She was one of Australia’s Stolen Generation where children were forcibly removed from their families solely due to race. If current practices continue, we risk having another stolen generation, this time due to poverty.
It is vital that young people and families are given the space to be open and honest about their experiences and struggles without fear or likelihood of consequences. If we do not urgently create such an environment, they will continue to be afraid of speaking out, go unheard by decision-makers, and their voices lost.
As a society, our collective mission must be to ensure that those who are most marginalised have their voices both heard and acted upon. Ultimately, all children, young people, and families should be able to exert their right to be heard. Only then can we truly shape a wellbeing economy for all.
Meg Thomas is the Head of Policy, Participation, and Projects at Includem.
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Last month, Katherine Trebeck went on a virtual tour in Holland. With over 15 gigs and several media interviews, it was a busy week of influencing stakeholders to transition to a Wellbeing Economy.
While speaking of the urgent need to build an economy that prioritises environmental and social wellbeing, she stressed the why, how and what of the transition.
“We have all this growth, but people aren’t satisfied with their lives. We’re in an unsafe, unevenly shared economic system that is doing so much damage.”
Katherine explains the dangers of ‘growth’ as the predominant driver of our economic thinking. While growth-based initiatives in the past have encouraged greater social progress, we are now seeing diminishing returns from growth. In her book, Economics of Arrival, she points that many countries have in fact arrived. What these countries have is enough. Now those countries must re-focus: less on growing, and more on providing decent livelihoods for all of their people.
On a broader level, Katherine asked,
“What kind of growth do we need?”
She asked her audiences to think about what an economy may need more or less of.
For example, we need more community gardens, renewable energy, worker-owned cooperatives and less oil tankers, and jobs that overwork and underpay their employees.
As she put it,
“We urgently need to have a more sophisticated conversation about what we need more of less of and what goals we have for our economy.”
Instead of growing for growth’s sake, we need to look closer at the indicators that increase human and ecological wellbeing. To replace GDP as the indicator, and instead, find a suite of measures of success that come from conversations with communities to reflect their needs.
“How do we transition to a wellbeing economy?”
For the answer, Katherine suggested stakeholders first look around at where they see these initiatives in action – and to learn from them, replicate them and use them to illustrate to governments that transitioning to a Wellbeing Economy is possible.
She pointed to:
The Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership offers examples of countries that are developing new indicators and looking beyond GDP as measures of economic success.
Businesses that are redirecting investment toward businesses beyond just the financial bottom line, who are pushing for employee ownership and are redefining their purpose to better reflect their values. This includes examples highlighted in WEAll’s Business of Wellbeing Guide, like the Dutch chocolate brand, Tony’s Chocolonely, which is working to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate.
The pioneering implementation of Kate Raworth’s Doughnut framework at the city level in Amsterdam
These are existing solutions and answers to replace the existing economic system.
Ultimately, her talks in Holland addressed the many stakeholders that need to be involved in the transition toward a Wellbeing Economy. It will take all of us to make this transition – and must be driven by a new idea for the purpose of the economy.
We should not be in service to the economy. The economy should be in service to us; to life, to the environment.
To learn more from Katherine Trebeck, watch her talks here:
We asked Stephanie Mander, Senior Project Officer at Nourish Scotland and Co-ordinator of Scottish Food Coalition, to speak to WEAll about food insecurity and how it relates to Scotland’s wellbeing – both before and during the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say:
We’re fortunate to live in Scotland, a country where the leadership not only recognises the shortcomings of GDP as the measure of a country’s economic progress, but also actively seeks to position national success as directly tied to the wellbeing of the population.
Earlier this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “Scotland is redefining what it means to be a successful nation by focusing on the broader wellbeing of the population as well as the GDP of the country. The goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing… Putting wellbeing at the heart of our approach means we can focus on a wider set of measures which reflect on things like the health and happiness of citizens.”
This is an inspiring vision, and in line with the goals of the Scottish Food Coalition – who would love nothing more than to see the health and happiness of Scotland’s citizens be the impetus behind the governance of our food system. Access to a healthy, sustainable diet is a human right, and that right is not being realised by too many in Scotland. We’ve been pushing for a proper look at the food system, and a bit of oomph behind the political will to address the many challenges it is facing – i.e. diet-related illnesses, food waste, climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, neglect for workers’ rights and poor animal welfare.
Unfortunately, oomph has seldom characterised the Government’s work in this area. They have persisted with taking a siloed approach, trying to address these interconnected challenges in isolation. This has led to different Government departments creating separate and sometimes contradictory strategies according to disparate policy goals. Scottish Government has recognised that we need a more coherent, and joined-up approach, yet despite multiple commitments to a Bill to reform the food system (the Good Food Nation Bill), there have been years of delays, back-tracking, and watered-down policy commitments. Pressure from our Coalition, opposition parties, the public and many other stakeholders in the food system helped to bring the Bill back to the table.
The Bill was finally due to be introduced in Spring 2020 when the Government, understandably, took the decision to prioritise bills essential to coping with the pandemic. However, there remains a cruel irony that COVID-19 led to a delay in a Bill, which – as a result of the outbreak’s impact on our food system – is now needed more than ever.
Jobs: Food workers have suffered during this pandemic; those in the hospitality sector have taken a huge economic hit, with a higher proportion of furloughed staff (and expected redundancies) than any other profession. Additionally, they face great risk; workers in the food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, people working in the food and drink industry are amongst the most likely to face insecure employment; in-work poverty with zero-hours contracts is pervasive across the food sector.
Health: Diet-related illness have been definitively linked with vulnerability to COVID-19 – people with type 2 diabetes are 81% more likely to die from it. Obese people are 150% more likely to be admitted to intensive care, and severely obese people over 300% more likely. Even before the pandemic, poor diet was responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK – 90,000 a year – almost as fatal as smoking, which is responsible for 95,000 deaths a year.
Food insecurity: In April 2020, the Food Foundation reported that in mid-April 2020, over 600,000 adults in Scotland were facing food insecurity. This means that around 14% of the adult Scottish population are either skipping meals, having one meal a day, or being unable to eat for a whole day. Prior to the pandemic, Scotland was seeing rising numbers of food insecurity: between April 2018 & September 2019, food banks in Scotland were giving out more than 1000 emergency food parcels on average every day.
If current patterns continue, Trussell Trust has warned this could go up to food banks giving out six emergency food parcels per minute. COVID–19 has not only worsened food security for those on low incomes; it has also created new vulnerabilities for people with previously secure incomes.
While arguments around resilience in our food chain hit new heights on the political agenda following this year’s well-publicised supply issues, the need for a new approach has never been more apparent.
The Scottish Government has prioritised wellbeing throughout its navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic – demonstrated by the £120 million investment to support people facing barriers to accessing food. But the underlying issues facing the food system existed before the pandemic; they are deeply entrenched. Stronger policy levers are desperately needed to galvanise systemic change.
However, this crisis has also shown what a new system could look like. We’ve seen some great stories of adaptation, and a renewed appreciation in the positive offerings of the food system. The pervasive disruption has jolted consumers into shifting their attitudes – with many thinking beyond their weekly supermarket shop. The pandemic has spurred a surge in demand for food boxes, community deliveries from local producers, and a perceived move to healthier and more sustainable buying. People are thinking more about where their food comes from.
We’ve been having conversations with people from across Scotland and hearing their thoughts on what the pandemic has revealed about our food system.
“Before COVID-19, Beach House Café in Portobello was a café we liked to visit. Since COVID-19, it has become our main grocery shop. A shop that knows our name, will flex to our diaries and work commitments and has shown us great care, energy, and commitment throughout. They are a shining example of what COVID-19 has taught me: cherish our local food producers, businesses, and organisations, as they truly are key workers that deliver so much more than our cupboard basics.”
We’ve seen communities come together, recognising that food is about more than calories – it’s about mental as well as physical wellbeing:
“I was so grateful for fresh fruit and some food each week from Blackhill’s growing group. I was having panic attacks at the thought of having to go to the shops…. standing 2 metres apart for 30/40 minutes just to get into the shop was pretty stressful for me. I am able to face shops a bit easier now. The friendly faces and chats from the folk delivering these food packages was also so appreciated.”
“What COVID-19 has taught me is that growing your own food is as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health… and with Brexit looming, increasingly my allotment has also signified food security.”
But there remains a recognition of the disconnect between the food system and the wellbeing of the population:
“Stirling is surrounded by farmland. Farmland is a 10-minute walk away from anywhere in the city centre – yet despite great need, we were unable to source Stirling-grown fruit or vegetables throughout all of lockdown.”
Frustratingly, there is not enough time before the next Scottish election to introduce the Good Food Nation Bill. But COVID-19 has shown us beyond a doubt that reform is needed.
The Scottish Food Coalition will continue to call for the introduction of the Good Food Nation Bill, with human rights at its heart.
More people are at the sharp end of systemic inequalities and inadequacies in our food system and the shortcomings in its governance. They should not have to continue to bear this burden. Legislators must learn lessons from COVID-19 that they have consistently failed to learn before this crisis. The Government must act now to ensure we realise our human right to food.
All we are saying is: give wellbeing a chance.
 The Scottish Food Coalitionis an alliance of small-scale farmers and growers, academics, workers’ unions, and charities focused on the environment, health, poverty, and animal welfare. The coalition has over 35 members including RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland, STUC, UNISON Scotland, Unite, Nourish Scotland, Trussell Trust, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, Scottish Care and Leith Crops in Pots. http://www.foodcoalition.scot
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WEAll Scotland response to the Programme for Government in Scotland Lukas Hardt and Katherine Trebeck; 28 September 2020
Earlier this month, the Scottish government published its Programme for Government, setting out its plans until the election for the Scottish parliament next year and explicitly committing to building a wellbeing economy in Scotland; an economy that is “fairer, greener, more prosperous”.
We welcome that commitment. And lot of the measures go in a promising direction.
For example, the government recognises that rebuilding the economy after COVID needs to simultaneously contribute to climate change mitigation and other environmental goals. The promised investment in energy efficient buildings, green sectors, tree planting and peatland restoration is important and to be welcomed, even if it still falls short of the scale necessary.
There are nods to the importance of social enterprises, community wealth building and the 20-minute neighbourhood. Some money is provided for cycling infrastructure. The emerging Scottish National Investment Bank could be used to provide the long-term investment we need for a just and green transition. The Youth Guarantee could be a great way to provide meaningful, well-paid job opportunities (although it could also become another way to subsidise poverty wages). Adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law gives society real power to hold the government to account.
But, despite the promising direction, the Programme for Government doesn’t live up to the ambition of a wellbeing economy. Building a wellbeing economy is about transforming our economic system so that it delivers social justice on a healthy planet, the first time round. That last phrase is important, because the Programme for Government, and much of our social policy debate in Scotland, is still too much about cleaning up and redistributing after the fact.
What do we mean by that? Our current socio-economic model is failing because it tries to deliver good lives, but does so by taking the long way round. The approach can be described in three steps1:
Get the economy to grow bigger, but don’t fret too much about the damage to people or the environment that this does.
Second, sequester a chunk out of this economy via taxes.
Third, channel some of this money into helping people and the planet to cope with step number 1.
The limits of this approach are clear – it implicitly concedes to damage and harm being done to people and planet by stage 1; such damage is now so great that actions in Step 3 cannot keep up, so people and planet are inadequately repaired; and in a world of finite resources and ever-more apparent limits to growth, the risks of step 1 are mounting.
Unfortunately, the main thrust of the Programme for Government seems largely confined to such a model. Step 1 policies include the £100 million “Green Jobs Fund” or the “Inward Investment Plan” aimed to boost GDP. Yes, the government is now putting a strong green slant on such policies, which is good, but fundamentally such policies are still about stimulating more growth within the current system. That won’t work.
On the other end, the government needs to spend heavily on Step 3 policies to patch up social inequalities and environmental damage.
Consider the high-profile announcement of a Scottish Child Payment and Child Winter Heating Assistance; or the Tenant’s Hardship Loan facility, which will help tenants, but is only shifting their debt from landlords to the government; or the £150 million of additional funding quietly earmarked for additional flood protection measures (and, while you’re at it, compare the latter amount to the Green Jobs Fund – telling isn’t it?). Such policies are good and important if we are to take care of people in the face of an economic system that generates inequality, financial insecurity and poverty and climate chaos.
But the real tragedy is that they are necessary in the first place.
Heralding redistribution as progress and patting ourselves on the back for helping people survive and cope with the current system is a sad reflection of how low our ambitions are.
A wellbeing economy is about attending to root causes – looking upstream. Designing the nature and configuration of the economy so it enables people to live good lives first time around rather than allowing so much damage to be done – often in some outdated and misguided pursuit of growth – and then thinking we’ve done well when we patch up that damage. A wellbeing economy agenda asks more of the economy. It starts from the premise we can no longer be content to patch and heal and repair – we need to construct the economic system in a way that delivers social justice on a healthy planet. From the outset.
Building a wellbeing economy requires changing the rules of the game and redesigning our institutions, our infrastructure and our laws. It means embracing the potential of pre-distribution rather than re-distribution and measuring our progress in a way that is better aligned with what is really needed. We already have lots of ideas on how to do this.
Some of what is needed is already being done in Scotland – just too tentatively. Take support for alternative business models that put people and planet before profits, such as worker-owned cooperatives or social enterprises. There are good steps towards community wealth building to keep wealth in the place where it is created and reform of land ownership rules (and that of other assets). The National Performance Framework is starting to broaden goals away from simply GDP growth – but hasn’t yet knocked GDP off its ill-deserved pedestal.
While the Scottish government’s powers are limited, it could use planning and procurement and business support much more proactively to cultivate the sort of business activities required for a wellbeing economy. Radical transformative action can be done in small steps. It is time that it takes its own rhetoric on the wellbeing economy seriously and initiates transformative change.
Trebeck, K., and Williams, J., 2019. The economics of arrival: Ideas for a grown up economy. Policy Press, Bristol, p. 86
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By: Kitty Forster, Assistant Psychologist & Researcher, Wales
Statistics suggest 1 in 4 people experience mental health disorders and mental health issues are on the rise amongst younger generations. Our pace of life has evoked unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and depression in our modern societies, specifically in the younger generation.
Various causes have been named as hypotheses for increased mental health issues; trauma, housing concerns, financial insecurity, working hours, poverty, social media, reduced connection to nature and communities.
There is enormous cost to society as a consequence of mental health issues; treatment costs, societal issues or missing workdays. These expenses are projected to increase significantly.
The World Health Organisation calls for reduction in stigma in mental health, and greater focus on prevention strategies.
Thankfully, mental health has become less of a taboo in the last couple of decades, along with increased access to evidence-based therapies available on the NHS, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), as well as traditional psychotherapy.
In addition, Mindfulness and other stress-reduction techniques are being promoted in the mainstream.
This is a valuable shift in perception and action.
The NHS is facing a significant increase in costs for social care services for Looked After Children due to parents struggling, crisis mental health cases, physical health costs of drug and alcohol abuse and judicial services and rehabilitation.
This spending is reductionist response to symptoms; rather than a holistic preventative approach, which would attempt to alleviate the prevalence of human suffering in the first place.
As well as providing mental health services for crisis cases, who are obviously prioritised on NHS waiting lists, there should be a greater allocation of funding for access to psychological services. The irony is that preventative services could cost less than patching up the societal ills of an unsupported community further down the line.
A wellbeing economy would be designed to prevent mental health issues, where possible, by providing dignity, connection and fairness to all.
Psychology, social care, mental health, education and childcare services are themes at the heart of a wellbeing economy and could be positively impacted by a change in public spending, focusing on valuable services for the psychological wellbeing of our communities.
Mental health is a spectrum. You’re not either totally well balanced or completely ‘insane’. Everyone slides around on the spectrum according to their personal histories, current lifestyle choices and circumstances. Our current society doesn’t seem to provide support until someone is further down the spectrum towards total mental health breakdown.
There is a huge proportion of society who could be feeling more emotionally stable if given education about simple tools for wellbeing, and this decreases the chance that some of those people might slide towards the danger zone end of the spectrum.
Psychology Services & Care in a Wellbeing Economy
Services for All
There are charities, Relate and Mind, currently focusing on providing mental health services for less ‘crisis’ cases, when the NHS is unable to allocate support.
A wellbeing economy could advocate for greater access to psychological and wellbeing services available for all – to facilitate all citizens to access healthy coping strategies, psychological education and counselling support.
I would envisage psychological educators, mindfulness teachers, parenting specialists, relationship counsellors, CBT therapists available for group sessions in all villages and community halls on a weekly drop-in basis. Clearly additional specialist one-on-one services would still be required, and these community sessions could signpost individuals to more intense support when needed; including support for domestic abuse, alcohol or drug issues, and referrals for cases requiring specialist one-on-one mental health intervention.
Psychological education could be provided on the following themes: how CBT works, how mindfulness works, the nature of healthy and unhealthy relationships, the psychological benefits of exercise/diet/sleep, the alternative coping mechanisms to try for stress, anxiety and depression.
This would reduce the likelihood of maladaptive coping strategies or unhealthy behavioural patterns becoming habitual. There are huge number of CBT resources available online, which are safe for the general public to use on a self-help basis after initial direction.
Additionally, the provision of wellbeing services such as Mindfulness and yoga classes available in each community centre on a regular basis would be helpful as a baseline measure to promote emotional wellbeing. The NHS now promote Mindfulness and endorse a specific online course Be Mindful.
A relatively new strand of research is demonstrating that the concept of Interoception – ‘the 8th sense’ – plays a huge role in people’s abilities to notice their own physiological bodily signals, that subsequently manifest as emotion. The ability to notice your emotions as they arise is hugely advantageous in terms of emotional regulation, making positive behavioural choices and personal agency. Interoceptive awareness can be enhanced with positive psychological benefits through meditation, mindfulness, yoga and other body-based contemplative practise (note: specialist interoceptive interventions are required for those with a history of trauma).
If delivered at scale, these services could hugely benefit the wellbeing of society. This increased emotional self-awareness and plethora of coping strategies could potentially alleviate a lot of unnecessary human suffering.
However, promoting these wellbeing services is not a panacea. These suggestions are certainly not sufficient to eradicate societal problems such as poverty, inadequate housing, poor social mobility and inter-generational trauma. More systemic interventions are needed for the most disadvantaged members of society. Interventions for children are needed to help break the recurring dysfunctional patterns in disadvantaged parts of society, as well as adequate government funding for housing, education, health and childcare.
Services for families
These aforementioned psychological services could help support a healthier generation of adults in our society, and this vicariously would have a positive impact on their children too. A parent’s poor mental health understandably influences their children’s wellbeing. A parent who is more emotionally stable within themselves is likely to be more able to provide emotional co-regulation for their children, to scaffold these capacities for the future generations, as well as being positive role models. Providing parents with the resources to manage their own emotions and help their child to develop emotional awareness is key.
In addition, a wellbeing economy could consider how to support families in whatever way suited their personal choices. Either to enable greater financial support for child are services, if mothers chose to return to work; or to support mothers to stay at home to raise their children during the early years.
Despite this being a personal choice for families, and hugely positive that it’s now socially acceptable to return to work, reportedly there is some judgement felt if women choose to remain at home with their young families. Some women report to be made to feel they are not contributing to society; yet they are raising the next generation, our descendants!
This role in society should also be valued. Incentivising a quick return to the workplace and to pay for childcare may be entangled in an economic system that doesn’t have families’ wellbeing at heart. Both options should be a financially viable choice for all families. At present women feel judged for returning to work and judged for staying at home!
Services for children
These broad themes within childcare services and the educational system could arguably have a greater impact on the wellbeing of our future as sociological culture evolves, than merely introducing new services for adults. A child growing up in a society where there is access to psychological education and wellbeing services as an accepted norm, has a greater chance of developing into a well-adjusted adult, with self-awareness and a repertoire of positive coping mechanisms to be resilient to life’s challenges. The reformation of the Welsh curriculum to incorporate health and wellbeing is hugely encouraging.
Wales has an amazing opportunity to promote mental health awareness from an early age, whilst children are receptive to new concepts. Some countries have ‘Interoceptive Awareness’ curriculums in mainstream schools, to teach children to notice their internal bodily signals and to learn to notice their emotions.
In Personal, Health and Social Education subjects, there needs to be a greater focus on psychological education – techniques for managing anxiety, stress, depression; which could encompass CBT resources, breathing and meditation techniques and the benefits of physical exercise. Children could also be taught about healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to negotiate difficult relationships they may encounter.
A film focusing on resilience in children cited a programme called ‘Miss Kendra’, developed to provide children with opportunities to express things that upset them, which they couldn’t safely express in day to day life. It was delivered in neighbourhoods with a propensity for a high proportion of Adverse Childhood Experiences (a significant predictor for both physical and mental health issues).
Other aspects of the film focused on how schools can teach children to have healthy expectations for how to be treated with respect and advocated mindfulness and meditation techniques to manage stress. Some schools have incorporated Mindfulness and yoga into their provision.
Mental health aside, in a broader sense, schools could have a huge impact on the wellbeing of subsequent generations if working in alliance with the Wellbeing Economy. Moving away from a competitive indoctrination of children to try for the best grades academically and feel that they are less worthy if they don’t achieve this.
Schools should ideally have the freedom to value the range of skills in a group of children, to foster their individual strengths. Some may take the typical academic path, others may be more practical, mechanical, artistic, or a very caring and nurturing person who may end up being an excellent ‘keyworker’ in social care services. Covid-19 really highlighted the inequality in our society – social and health care workers are not adequately valued or financially compensated for the vital services they deliver. Building an Education system that incentivises and values equally all roles in society – and an economic system that financially compensates roles which are crucial for functioning communities – would create a more diverse range of jobs that are considered to be valuable and aspired to.
Our current achievement and wealth-based status system is elitist and damaging to the self-worth of the majority of working people. We are led to believe that if we aren’t earning top wages, we haven’t achieved our potential. There needs to be a radical shift in social values, which could start in schools; to promote a more diverse acquisition of interests in children, with the ultimate aim to support long-term wellbeing in society – rather than creating worker bees who will grind away at the cogs or our current economic system.
Education should teach children to have the confidence to voice their opinions, promote creativity, promote and value positive personality characteristics, normalise emotional difficulties and provide time and space for children to indulge in the ‘being’ mode, rather than rushing them into the ‘doing’ mode of Western civilisation – with no time to develop towards their true potential. Children should feel pride for whatever skills they’re blessed with and not only if they are built to win the rat race.
Kitty’s Bio: I have a Psychology Bsc and MRes in Psychology. I have worked in the children’s social care sector, the NHS and within the Psychology department at Bangor University. I like to consider the macro perspectives in mental health issues and consider how these could be addressed systemically for the wellbeing of our society.
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By: Kitty Forster, Assistant Psychologist & Researcher, Wales
To use a very bold metaphor, the human race is at risk of becoming a parasitic killer of our host, planet Earth. We are taking more than is sustainable, from a finite resource. All parasites which kill their host, die out or have to evolve.
We don’t have the option to evolve on a different host.
Evolutionary Psychology and the Economic System
Our brains have been structurally the same for 250,000 years, yet our lifestyles have changed radically. Our brains are out of date. We’ve created a puppet, the present economic system, that controls how we meet our basic needs. This isn’t working for people or planet.
Although the architecture of our brains won’t evolve, our mental construct of capitalist economic system, which is only a couple of hundred years old, can! We don’t have to let it dictate the demise of people and planet. We have a choice: we can decide to ‘evolve’ consciously, a privilege only the human specifies has.
We are conscious co-creators in the evolution of life. We have free will. And we have choices. Consequently, our success is based on our choices, which are, in turn, totally dependent on our awareness. – Bruce H. Lipton
Empowering a New Reality
Shifting opinions towards being supportive of a Wellbeing Economy could be an opportunity for people to feel less apathetic, to regain some autonomy – even to feel empowered!
This relies on people making a conscious decision to accept a new economic system. To perceive that they are making autonomous choices, based on common sense, and contributing to the positive evolution of humanity, rather than blindly following destructive consumption patterns.
Fascinatingly, interoceptive awareness is linked with personal agency. This implies that our agency (semantically related to ‘free will’) can be honed and improved, because interoceptive awareness can be increased via contemplative practise i.e. mindfulness, yoga, chi kung, meditation.
We have the capacity to make decisions with more awareness, deliberately working on eradicating automatic and blind habitual behavioural patterns. To intentionally change the course of human history.
Humans tend to ‘pattern-match’ with similar situations to make sense of the world – and any kind of radical political revolution, like a shift to a new economic system, can have negative associations with civil unrest, maybe even on an unconscious level.
Just because you feel a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s a true interpretation of reality.
The Language of a Wellbeing Economy
Humans use language to deriving meaning and make sense of the world. So, to help counter humans’ natural distrust of change, the language used to describe a Wellbeing Economy needs to be carefully considered.
The language used needs to appeal to peoples’ emotions around their core needs – food, shelter, health and family – emphasising specific, concrete examples of people-centred policies and what a society within a wellbeing economy would look.
It would be beneficial to describe the benefits of local systems in a way that sounds practical and realistic; avoid confirming any existing negative preconceptions about radical alternative solutions. Ideally there would be both ‘left and right’ wing representatives for WEAll.
Framing what is ‘Socially Desirable’
It wasn’t very long ago that Western society shifted from being needs-based, to being based on desire-based consumption. This can be turned around.
People of the future might gradually associate unnecessary abundance of materialist possession as socially shameful. Neglecting to look after things, refusing to mend items, or upgrading possessions for no real reason could be seen as wasteful.
Only consuming what you need could become admirable, rather than being associated with being in poverty (failure) or mean with money (unkind).
Excessive use of fossil fuels could be socially unacceptable and open you up to criticism and being shunned by peers – rather than being envied for a jet set lifestyle.
Coveting efficient and sustainable choices amongst peer relationships, rather than propagating judgement for getting a bus (‘peasant wagon’), the ostensible shame of buying from charity shops or having old-fashioned household items.
Psychology research provides a plethora of resources to help create public support for a wellbeing economy … and intentionally change the course of human history.
Kitty’s Bio:I have a Psychology Bsc and MRes in Psychology. I have worked in the children’s social care sector, the NHS and within the Psychology department at Bangor University. I like to consider the macro perspectives in mental health issues and consider how these could be addressed systemically for the wellbeing of our society.
https://weall.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/elena-mozhvilo-eA32JIBsSu8-unsplash-scaled.jpg17072560anahttps://weall.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/WEAll-logo-smaller.jpgana2020-09-03 19:08:572020-10-02 16:20:29The Role of Psychology in Shifting Narratives: Public Perception of a Wellbeing Economy
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.
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On 12th August 2020, the Office for National Statistics announced that the UK’s GDP had fallen 20.4% in the second quarter, putting the UK into its worst recession since records began. Following the UK’s prolonged lockdown, this drop in Gross Domestic Product is more severe than losses seen in the US and the Eurozone.
The impact of COVID-19 has been difficult for everyone, especially those who have become ill or lost loved ones. For many, it’s been a prompt to take stock of what really matters, placing a greater emphasis on individual and community wellbeing.
At WEAll, we’re passionate about advancing the wellbeing economy concept: an economic system purpose-built to deliver social justice on a healthy planet. Within a wellbeing economy, humanity determines economics, not the other way around.
So when we see figures like this—that GDP has fallen by 20.4%—it’s important to clarify what this data means and what it does (and doesn’t) tell us about the state of society.
No one should argue that these are not difficult times, with furloughs and redundancies widespread and social isolation still a reality for many people. In terms of the actual numbers we use to measure our country’s economic health, however, we propose that GDP is a skewed figure that reveals little about the wellbeing of the millions of people who keep the economy running, each and every day.
GDP doesn’t see the outpouring of community support, for example, and it neglects our country’s renewed focus on nature. It measures cash transactions, which include drug dealing, but ignores volunteer work and caring duties.
Find new oil? GDP goes up. Start a community garden? No impact.
Have to deal with flooding caused by global warming or medical treatment to cope with heatwaves? GDP will see that as a good thing. Spend more time with your family and friends? GDP isn’t interested.
Take your car into a congested city? GDP loves that. Jump on your bike and use one of the new cycle lanes? GDP doesn’t care.
The last few months have seen big hits to restaurants, education, the arts, public transport, and even healthcare—all sectors which are very important to the wellbeing economy, not to mention to their workers. However, even here the GDP statistics do not tell the full story. Childcare and education did not disappear. For better or for worse, it just happened at home. We are seeing our friends and family less than we would like to, but we still see them. It’s just that many of us now go for a walk in the park rather than for a meal in a restaurant. These activities still have value, but they are simply not captured by GDP.
We can all agree on the need to rebuild, but it’s imperative that we build back better instead of simply returning to the status quo, which works only for the few and often neglects the very key workers on whom we all rely. We are just not convinced that GDP is the most useful measure of how Scotland builds back better, renews, or recovers. See our recent response to comments made by Benny Higgins, the chairman of Nicola Sturgeon’s advisory group on economic recovery, to learn more about the myth of “green growth”.
Katherine Trebeck, Advocacy and Influencing Lead at WEAll and co-founder of WEAll Scotland, has long campaigned for alternative measures of progress to GDP. One such alternative to GDP she points to is to focus on things like the number of girls riding bikes to school. It might sound radical at first, says Katherine, but just think of the contextual factors that need to be in place in order for higher numbers of girls on bikes (and in education) to improve.
There are tough times behind us, and no doubt there will be tough times ahead. So moving forward, let’s build a stronger economy that works for all of us, not just those who benefit from outdated measures of success like GDP.
Written by Sandra Waddock, Boston College Carroll School of Management (cc) 2020
In a powerful book published in 1986 called Images of Organisation, management scholar Gareth Morgan vividly demonstrated how the metaphors used to describe organisations shape perceptions of who these organisations are. Metaphors are one type of meme. Memes [in this case speaking of Meme’s beyond colloquial internet memes] are the basis on which the stories that we tell are built. In Morgan’s case, these stories are about organisations and indicate different perspectives about ‘how things work here’ and who ‘we’ are in that particular context.
Memes are, in the thinking of Susan Blackmore, who has written extensively about them, core units of cultures that when successful transfer readily from one person’s mind to others. Memes are ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols, metaphors, and brands that are at the heart of how we humans understand things. Memes are the units out of which we compose stories and narratives, for example, in Morgan’s case about organisations.
Memes are ideas, phrases, words, images, symbols, metaphors, and brands that are at the heart of how we humans understand things
Morgan’s book—and its different ‘stories’ about organisations—helped reshape thinking about organisations, particularly companies. In Morgan’s telling, organisations could be viewed as machines, living organisms, brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, systems in flux and transformation, and instruments of domination, among others. Each of these perspectives tells a different story about the nature, purposes, and functioning of the enterprise. Each metaphor is based on a different core meme—core idea—that shapes understanding of the organisation, is easily identifiable, and resonates as at least somewhat appropriate with many people. The perspective—the story and its related memes—strongly influences attitudes towards a given enterprise—as well as practices, attitudes, and behaviors within it.
So it is with the narratives and stories that shape our lives. Really important and foundational stories in different contexts are what anthropologists call cultural mythologies. Stories and narratives are central to any human enterprise, whether it is a business organisation or whole economies, and indeed to what makes us human. These stories are the ones that tell people in those communities what it means to be part of that community; they are the ones that most people are familiar with and that really make one culture different from others. The memes on which such cultural mythologies are built shape and form attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors.
Today, particularly in the so-called developed world, we are living under what is sometimes called a meta-narrative or meta-story. Such metanarratives are like umbrellas in that they cover numerous aspects of the culture or system. In doing so, they provide a kind of roadmap to what it means to be part of this system, culture, or community. The dominant metanarrative in the world—at least before the Covid-19 pandemic hit—is that of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the economic theory that tells us that the purpose of the corporation is to ‘maximise shareholder wealth’, that companies and economies should pursue continual and unending growth in profitability, markets, and market dominance. Neoliberalism also notes that what matters is intense competition in purportedly free markets and in a globalised world where trade is also supposed to be free. It tell us, in contrast to scientific evidence from biology, that humans are self-interested profit maximisers. It focuses whole economies on constant growth of financial wealth, often as measured in share prices on stock exchanges, rather than any other important human values.
The dominant metanarrative in the world—at least before the Covid-19 pandemic hit—is that of neoliberalism
Mantras associated with neoliberalism assert several important memes in the way of slogans. One is that ‘There is no such thing as society’, to use the words of Margaret Thatcher, one of the theory’s dominant proponents during the 1980s. The other, also from Thatcher, is TINA, the idea that ‘There is no alternative’ to capitalism, even to the extreme form of capitalism dominant in the world today. A third meme, stated by then US President Ronald Reagan involves reducing the power of government, ‘Keep government off our backs’, advocating for laissez-faire governments.
Such memes have consequences in real life. These ideas influence how companies behave—in cutthroat competitive fashion rather than more collaboratively or making decisions in the interests of short-term profitability rather than long-term strategic considerations. Companies sometimes seek ‘efficiency’ at whatever costs to workers, the natural environment, or local communities might be involved even if that means layoffs, pollution, clear cutting of forests, cruel animal husbandry practices, or other so-called “externalities”. The diminishment of governmental effectiveness since the 1980s is a direct result of these beliefs—with significant consequences that have become very apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic in some countries. Neoliberalism with its core memes is an important metanarrative—cultural mythology.
Once a myth like neoliberalism gets established, and it does so when key memes get repeated over and over by others (or replicated from mind to mind, as Susan Blackmore might say), it is very hard to change. The problem is that experts are educated in the context of field-specific paradigms that tell them how their field operates, how to do their work, and what is and is not important. Shifting paradigms—beliefs, attitudes, mindsets, and expertise—requires new education, insights, and an openness to new ways of thinking and doing research.
Shifting paradigms—beliefs, attitudes, mindsets, and expertise—requires new education, insights, and an openness to new ways of thinking and doing research.
The idea of creating wellbeing economies is meant to provide powerful, resonant counter-memes to today’s dominant narrative. Particularly in the context of the global pandemic now afflicting the world, the idea of wellbeing for all, where ‘all’ includes all of nature as well as well as all human beings, may well begin to resonate. Values associated with creating a wellbeing economy move away from financial wealth maximisation as the core purpose of economies towards fostering what gives life to our societies and the economies that support them, subordinating economies to the broader societies in which they operate. Some of the values associated with wellbeing economies (which might differ in different places) are, but share a common set of values (i.e., memes):
Societies and their economies are human creations that need to be designed to be:
Based on relationships and connectedness to self, others, and nature.
Measured/evaluated by collective wellbeing without dignity violations of humans or other living creatures.
Oriented towards life-giving/affirming design principles that recognize cyclicality, development into complexity without continual growth, and flourishing for all.
Recognized as human creations integrally connected to nature.
The question for WEAll and all organisations working to change our economic system, is how to bring these values—these new memes—into widespread and resonant being throughout society. What new stories can we tell? What new narratives can we develop? What are the powerful memes that will resound broadly and create activism and demand for wellbeing—not ‘wealth’ when wealth really only serves to create what the British art critic John Ruskin called call ‘illth’—the opposite of wealth, which in its original meaning has to do with wellbeing, health, and wholeness. That is the real wealth a wellbeing economy seeks.
For Further Reading
Blackmore, S. (2000). The meme machine. Vol. 25. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.
Blackmore, Susan. (2000). The power of memes. Scientific American, 383(4): 64-73.
https://weall.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/books-1245690_1920-200x120-1.jpg120200Usman Tufailhttps://weall.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/WEAll-logo-smaller.jpgUsman Tufail2020-06-15 17:08:262020-10-02 16:20:33Memes, Stories, Narratives, and Transformation to a Wellbeing Economy
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