The coronavirus pandemic has shown us many things, both good and bad: the resilience of community, the ineptitude of our government, the tragedy of loss, the importance of family and friends and the worth of professions that we have failed to value properly for years.
But as we wait longingly for the end of the crisis, we should remember one lesson in particular – it has also shown us that our current economic system is absolutely and completely unfit for purpose.
Based on theories taught as facts and written decades (or even centuries) ago by wealthy white men from imperial countries, our global economy reflects the interests of the tiny minority of the wealthy and the privileged, at the expense of billions of other people and the health of our planet.
Starting with the narrow perspective that “growth” and “GDP” are all that should be measured, it ignores those things that aren’t seen as profitable (and are therefore not worth counting) – things like health, wellbeing, equality, the care we give to those who are in need, the opportunity to be educated or do a job that we love, access to nature, and a sense of community. Precisely those things, in other words, that Covid-19 has shown us we value the most.
All too often, we have been told that we have to make a choice between the needs of the economy, the people and the environment. And, almost always, the economy has won out. “We have to bail out the banks, and then we can think about all the people suffering through austerity” or “we can’t divest from fossil fuels yet because our GDP will take a hit.”
During the first few months of the pandemic, it was refreshing and reassuring to see public health accepted as the priority, while received economic wisdom took a backseat – with the government introducing genuinely radical financial measures to get us through. But as we head into a second wave, the cabinet is already tearing itself apart with that classic “either/or” – public health or the economy.
But those two things do not have to be in conflict, and if we find that they are then our economy needs to change.
Because after what we’ve been through as a country, how can it make sense that those deemed “key workers” during the crisis remain on poverty-level wages? Or that so much crucial work that got us through – like the caring for children and relatives so overwhelmingly done by women – is still not even recognised as work at all?
How is it that that we can claim to end homelessness overnight, but that a return to “normal” means kicking those people back onto the streets? Or that online working has become the new normal when five million people still can’t even afford internet access? And do we really want to go back to a world where we work relentlessly, at the expense of our family life, our mental health and all our other passions?
Yesterday, I introduced a motion to the Women’s Equality Party’s 2020 conference to radically reimagine what our society and economy should look like. At the centre of this proposal was the economic model proposed by the economist and University of Oxford Senior Research Associate Kate Raworth.
Known as “Doughnut Economics” because of the shape of the diagram used to explain it, this model starts from a radically different (though utterly commonsense) perspective. Our economy should deliver both human and planetary health, with a focus on meeting the needs of all people within the means of our planet.
The inner ring of the “doughnut” includes all the minimum elements needed for a “good” life – derived from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – with those in the “hole” left without. The outer ring highlights the limits to avoid excessively damaging the climate.
I know some people might scoff at this. It’s a pipe dream, right? A hippy vision that doesn’t understand how the “real world” works.
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But we have been taught to think this way, endlessly told that we have to be “realistic”, tighten our belts and live within our means, all while we continue burning the planet and a handful of men own as much wealth as the poorest half of our planet combined.
And frankly, that won’t cut it anymore. Because if there’s one other thing that the pandemic has achieved, it is exposing the lie that action isn’t possible. We know now how quickly our society can change. Now we must refuse to accept that the changes we need cannot be made.
My motion to the Women’s Equality Party was overwhelmingly voted through. Doughnut economics will be at the heart of our policies from now on and we hope that other parties follow our lead. But this doesn’t have to come from the top down.
The City of Amsterdam has adopted doughnut economics too, proving that you don’t have to take a whole country with you to make a change; local Authorities and organisations across the UK could do this themselves. Together we will become a movement, campaigning for a caring economy where all can thrive.
Our economy and our society has been sick. Now, it turns out that (for once) a doughnut is the healthy choice.
Tabitha Morton is deputy leader of the Women’ Equality Party and the CEO of More United