The momentum for inclusive growth is strengthening. In order for the agenda to really make an impact, the building of an inclusive society must provide the scaffolding that supports a new type of growth.
The RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission sets out a range of clear and compelling principles and recommendations to achieve ‘’growth that works for everyone not just the privileged few,’’ as Prime Minister Theresa May would say. The report sets out a clear road map towards inclusive growth. While much of the post-launch commentary has been about growth, productivity and public finances, I would argue that the most critical ingredient for delivering inclusive growth is a fair society that has institutions, structures and processes that empower local communities and enable them to hold their governments to account. This requires the participation of all groups and communities in decision making processes. It is part of the “social infrastructure” that the Commission identifies as central to creating an economy that works for all.
Building an inclusive society
The most sustainable way of tackling inequality and addressing unequal growth is through creating an inclusive society that removes obstacles to meaningful participation. An inclusive society involves more than sharing the wealth of the country differently. It would also support communities to directly inform social and economic policies, and have a say in what local growth in their area should look like. This could not only potentially help prevent poverty, inequality and a waste of human potential, but also uncover individuals’ and communities’ untapped potential. An economy built around people’s needs and aspirations could generate good jobs, empower marginalised groups and promote overall social wellbeing. There is some evidence of a link between levels of community participation in policy making and the promotion of a fairer and stronger economy where social inclusion reduces the gap between marginalised groups and those who are better off (also see the RSA’s project with JRF on citizen engagement and inclusive growth).
If we are serious about inclusive growth which can work for everyone, then governments must commit to creating opportunities for all citizens and draw policies that support the development of a fair and inclusive society. This can include controlling living costs, ensuring adequate housing and social protection, strengthening citizen participation, reducing isolation, improving social mobility, or supporting community anchor institutions. These reforms can help enhance societal and community wellbeing and happiness – and also provide the right sort of scaffolding to make growth sustainable, inclusive and values-based.
It is clear that an unbalanced economy has left many of our communities and cities facing a bleak future characterised by low wages, a lack of skills, insecure jobs, inadequate social protection, and in some cases complex and entrenched social problems. Many of the communities that have already been left behind from growth for decades will feel these issues most acutely. Last year’s Brexit result showed that tackling social inequality and poverty is not just a moral imperative but it is also politically and economically necessary (for example, the JRF estimates that poverty costs the country £79bn per annum). It exposed significant rifts in our society – and high levels of exclusion – making it more important than ever to underpin inclusive growth with an inclusive society built on values of social justice, social mobility and citizen empowerment.