Third time’s a Sharm
As world leaders and their retinues get things underway at COP27 on the coast of the Red Sea, we can expect plenty of heated argument alongside some hoped-for progress. A new report from Carbon Brief shows that the UK and other rich countries are falling short of providing their ‘fair share’ of climate finance. The global negotiations will also hold up a mirror to some rumbling domestic issues. Common Cause Foundation ask whether the RSPB will stand with striking workers, raising some interesting questions about the extent to which organisations with large, politically diverse memberships can and should be shaping the public conversation as well as reacting to it. CCF argue that solidarity across sectors needs to be grounded in deep-rooted intrinsic values, such as social justice, community and love for nature (and fairness?), rather than being based on temporary tactical alliances. Meanwhile, new research from Autonomy finds that the top 1% of earners generate about 25 times more carbon emissions than the bottom 10%, echoing the separate statistics cited in the Fairness Index. In the Times (paywall), Alice Liddell suggests taxing private jet users and other high emitters to pay for home insulation for poorer households. And Climate Outreach has published some advice about communicating climate justice with young adults in Europe.
The austere statement
It sounds as though the autumn statement on 17 November will usher in more spending cuts than tax rises (although we’ll see both). Rishi Sunak told Steven Swinford in the Times (paywall) that “we’re going to be fair in how we go about addressing [the difficult decisions to come]”. When challenged about whether cutting benefits in real terms would meet his pledge to put “fairness at the heart of what [we] do”, Sunak says he is “confident” that people will judge the budget to be fair. Fair how, and to whom? It’s good that at least this administration is acknowledging that trade-offs have to be made. But are these cuts even necessary? A report from the IPPR last week challenged the idea that spending cuts are inevitable for restoring macroeconomic stability, arguing that the government has £90bn of ‘fiscal space’ in 2023. And even if we accept the government’s interpretation of the fiscal situation, there is a mountain of evidence that further cuts to public service will do immense damage to society, to individuals, and to the economy. Recent administrations haven’t paid much attention to the scathing comments of UN poverty envoys, but more came last week from Olivier de Schutter, who warned that further cuts could violate the UK’s international human rights obligations. In the Observer, Will Hutton argued that we have abandoned many of our young people, pointing to the huge impact of childhood circumstances on life chances, and the millions of young people growing up in poverty. Many of these statistics were highlighted in the Fairness Index last month.
As Will Hutton points out, health inequalities are inextricably bound up with life chances, and a series of reports from the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ Deaton Review of Inequality explored that theme last week. The main paper concluded that “the most promising approach to improving population health is to continue to focus on the health and well-being of children”. A paper on causal relationships found that bad health causes economic inequality, but said that whether economic inequality has negative effects on health depends on the policy environment (in the UK, it clearly does). A paper on adult experiences suggested that socio-economic inequalities in childhood are translated into the health conditions that cause death in later life. And a paper on inequalities in the distribution of healthcare argued that there is an overall ‘pro-poor’ distribution of quantity but a ‘pro-rich’ distribution of quality, experience and access to services, including waits for treatment, in the UK. In the same week, the BBC covered some Cambridge University research showing that there were fewer GPs per patient in poorer parts of England (the ‘inverse care law’ in action). And more evidence has been published, this time from the University of Bristol, of the huge variations in the impact of COVID based on location, wealth, gender, disability, ethnicity and migration status.
What do you mean, it’s not a word? Last week, analysis from US academics explored the nature, causes and consequences of growing economic inequality across the world. For some reason they left out the UK, but luckily this hole has already been plugged by the wealth inequality indicator from the Fairness Index (and there are plenty more stats in the World Inequality Database). I wrote a piece for the Tribune group of Labour MPs recently exploring a similar set of themes. Looking at the spatial dimensions of these issues, Justice Everywhere published an interesting article about the links between inequality, segregation and gentrification, arguing for different ways of thinking about tackling place-based inequalities at the local level. And the ONS published some fantastic interactive maps linked to the latest releases of the 2021 census data, showing, for example, regional variations in deprivation data. The picture changes dramatically as you add multiple dimensions (employment, education, health, housing) .
The care paradox
Finally, a quick mention of an excellent article by James Plunkett, published for a project with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Social justice in a digital age. It talks about the ‘care paradox’: “the more that capitalism matures, the more we squeeze and sideline the most human aspects of life”. Technological innovations make goods ever cheaper, but services that are reliant on people and cannot be ‘sped up’ become more expensive, and because of our failure to invest in care, the sector has become “rife with low pay, burnout, and a struggle to protect even the most basic levels of human dignity and respect.” Plunkett explores the resulting injustices, especially the gender inequalities, and lays out some thoughtful solutions. It’s well worth a read.
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