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This week’s heatwave is a national emergency, but just like COVID, it hits some of us much harder than others. People in poor health, in poor housing, with poor working conditions, are bearing the brunt of it. It’s time to shine a light on how unfair our society is and what we need to do to fix it.
Fair Comment will be taking a break next week. Back in early August.
Chief Executive Fairness Foundation
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Fairly hot or not?
It’s misguided and incredibly short-sighted for many of the Conservative leadership candidates to argue that reducing carbon emissions should be deprioritised in favour of ‘more urgent’ issues.
Yes, we must ensure that emissions reductions don’t unfairly disadvantage the poorest in society, or people working in particular industries. We know that, and we know what to do to ensure that there is a fair transition to net zero.
But surely today’s potentially record-breaking temperatures are enough to close down once and for all the argument that we can afford to dilute or slow down the transition to a cleaner economy? And why has there been such a deafening silence (and lack of progress) on adapting our infrastructure to the inevitability of increasingly extreme weather in the UK?
Part of the problem is that those who are already bearing (and will continue to bear) the brunt of climate breakdown are the poorest in society, the most disenfranchised, the most excluded. Just as become horribly clear during COVID, we’re not all in it together. Heat will be the next big inequality issue around the world, and the UK is not immune.
Climate justice is a term that is often used in the global context, but it is also very relevant in Britain. A 2014 review by the Centre for Sustainable Energy discovered several forms of climate injustice in the UK:
- Lower-income and other disadvantaged groups contribute least to causing climate change but are likely to be most negatively affected by it.
- They pay, as a proportion of income, the most towards implementing certain policy responses and benefit least from those policies.
- Their voices tend to go unheard in decision making.
Choosing between addressing immediate short-term issues (such as the cost of living and inflation, and socio-economic inequality) and huge long-term issues (such as climate breakdown) is a false choice. The two go together, and need to be tackled together.
A recent report by Climate Outreach set out some guidance on how to talk about fairness in relation to climate policy. Why this focus on fairness? To quote the authors: “One of the driving factors influencing whether citizens support climate policies is whether they view them as fair. The good news is there is more shared ground around what people think about fairness than may sometimes seem to be the case.”
The Fair Necessities can help us to think about how to tackle environmental priorities within a broader framework of social and economic justice, and in doing so to build support for rapid and radical action across the political spectrum. Public support for action on climate remains high, despite the political games being played. We must go forwards, faster and fairer, not backwards.
Reads of the week
“Britain is a rich country, with huge economic and cultural strengths. But those strengths are not being built on, with the recent record of low growth leaving Britain trailing behind its peers. This forms a toxic combination with the UK’s high inequality, leaving low- and middle-income households far poorer than their counterparts in similar countries.” So says Torsten Bell at the the Resolution Foundation. Their report, Stagnation Nation, finds that the average UK household is £8,800 a year worse off than those in France or Germany.
“It is unacceptable that going into the pandemic, a decade of cuts to working-age benefits drove child poverty to its highest level since 2007. It is critical that the government act urgently to improve the adequacy of our social security safety net.” Peter Matejic at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation comments on a report on living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK (funded by JRF) from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which found that benefit cuts since 2010 increased UK child poverty in the run-up to the pandemic.
“With rising fuel costs, growing food poverty and worrying levels of financial insecurity, this research should be a wake-up call for the Government. It underlines the need for urgent action to address the cost of living crisis that will hit communities that have the least the hardest.” A report commissioned by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods as part of its inquiry into levelling up finds that residents in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are uniquely vulnerable to the rising cost of living.
“The entire country has been impacted by the cost of living crisis but our research clearly shows some areas are being hit much harder than others. Worryingly, the north, Midlands and Wales are struggling with higher rates of inflation that are further squeezing finances and leaving their residents hundreds of pounds worse off.” New research from the Centre for Cities finds that the cost-of-living crisis has widened Britain’s north-south divide by 30%.
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