The Wellbeing Economy
As part Scotland’s Climate Festival (hosted by Keep Scotland Beautiful, and funded by the Scottish Government), an evening webinar on “The Wellbeing Economy: Creating thriving communities in a changing climate” took place on the blustery eve of 16th Feb.
The speakers at this event were Lorna Slater (Scottish Government, MSP); Dr. Lukas Hardt, (WEAll Scotland); Dr. Suzy Morrissey (University of Auckland; WEAll Aoteraroa New Zealand Hub); Lewis Ryder-Jones (Scotland's International Development Alliance; SDG Network Scotland).
Carys Mainprize, our Communications officer, was part of the audience and summarises and reflects the event.
You can watch the recording of the webinar here.
Scotland wants to be a thriving, greener country – and one of the ways the government plans to do this is via the Wellbeing Economy. This is a fairly new concept, with Scotland founding The Wellbeing Governments Group (alongside New Zealand and Iceland) in 2018. The underpinning idea is that this is an economy built on the wellbeing of communities, businesses, and the natural environment.
But how do we measure wellbeing? There are a variety of potential qualitative and quantitative measurements that can be chosen from, and a pilot project is running in Clackmannshire (The Wellbeing Economy Project) to help to develop this ‘dashboard’ of measurements. It is expected that there will be different measurements for different areas, reflecting that life in rural and urban areas can be very different.
We can also learn about its implementation from countries like New Zealand, and from progressive policies in Wales, Malta, and Finland – and even council areas like Preston, who are focussing on a community wealth-building approach, which has multiple parallels to a wellbeing economy.
Under a wellbeing economy, focusses move away from GDP and profits and onto fair work, living wages, bartering, social enterprises or community shared ownership of businesses, resources, and decision making. The circular economy will be hugely important, not just for our carbon footprint, but also for things such as the cleanliness of our neighbourhoods. Concepts like repair cafes and sharing libraries will be hugely important under this economy.
“You don’t have to clean it up if it doesn’t get wasted in the first place” – Lorna Slater, MSP, on how the circular economy results in a cleaner environment.
In this greener, thriving nation, Scotland anticipates a huge boom in green skills including in construction (upgrading homes, building renewable energy tech), land or sea based jobs (land management, agriculture, carbon sequestration), and the circular economy (new product design, repairing, recycling centres).
We need to reshape our labour to reshape our economy, but re- and upskilling our labour is a huge undertaking. How do we reach the most disadvantaged in our society to ensure they also benefit from these opportunities? These questions are those that must be wrestled with in the near future, including how we handle other major hurdles such as ensuring fair work, or how we build a national care service.
The speakers all agreed that the system had to be restructured at several levels to achieve a good national and global wellbeing, from the micro to the macro – including the most macro of all: the profit driven economy.
Our economy is currently designed – as is most of the world’s, but particularly the West’s – for constant and unlimited growth, with profits at any cost. The speakers emphasised that we must move to prioritise people and the planet over GDP and realise that all our wellbeing matters equally – both within and out-with our borders.
The existing conversation about economy is hampered by the consensus that our current system is the only way to have an economy. This is somewhat informed by the recent past where other types of economies were brought in by totalitarian governments and are now associated with these regimes. But the new economy we forge does not have to mirror previous economies – we can learn instead from concepts like degrowth and doughnut economics (see below).
This is easily said, and not so easily done. What are the sorts of priorities that will allow us to move away from our current economy?
A key point of changing our economy is in changing our democracy. Smaller council areas, and local councillors, is paramount: our representatives should not be able to make unsavoury policy or legislative changes without worrying about the consequences to the average person because if it's out of sight, it's easily out of mind.
Lorna Slater, MSP, brought up a second key point – with her Green Party co-leader hat firmly on – that the elephant in the room is that we talk about tackling extreme poverty often, but less so about extreme wealth. The simple truth is that extreme wealth is a driver of poverty, and you can’t tackle poverty without tackling extreme wealth. However:
“Challenging global norms is not an easy thing to do,” - Lorna Slater, MSP.
This does not mean that a wellbeing economy is against business, but it is against exploitative and extractive businesses. Responsible social enterprises, and cooperative or community businesses are the way forward for the wellbeing economy. There are many alternative business models that do not want profit at any cost, for the few highest ranking staff members.
The way forward is not without hurdles, but Scotland and its fellow Wellbeing Governments will learn from one another and slowly demonstrate a new way of judging the success of our economies, without leaving behind any individual, community, or part of the natural world.
The webinar was incredibly heartening and empowering; I felt that not only were there potential futures where climate action is at the heart of everything we do, but that there was political appetite to move us in that direction. There was acknowledgement that there would be hard work to do in order to get individuals and businesses on the side of the wellbeing economy, but at the end of the day, the idea that you spend less money but gain in other ways, such as spending more time with your family, is not as hard a sell as the media may make it seem.