The People Factor
What economic policy really means for people and communities in Scotland
GCVS and charities from across Glasgow and Scotland were privileged and rather excited to welcome Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England to our Albany Centre in April of this year.
The approach to hold a Bank of England Community session with charities was an opportunity too good to miss. Anyone who watches Mr. Carney and the steadying hand of the Bank of England could not fail to be impressed by their work and his quiet dignity amidst unprecedented political turmoil.
And we weren’t disappointed. At a community event organized by GCVS, Mr. Carney and his team spent a great deal of time talking with and listening to charities working with women who have experienced sexual abuse, with unpaid carers and with children, amongst many others. These organisations represent our fellow citizens – people and communities deeply affected by years of austerity, structural barriers and deliberate political decisions which have only exacerbated inequality.
This approach from the Bank of England is incredibly important. Too often, the economy and economic performance in political and public discourse are discussed in the abstract – as ‘things’ which sit outside the reality of our everyday lives. The Bank appears to be trying to build a bridge between its powerful role in how our economy operates and the experience of people and communities who often have no real say in the economic direction of travel – or the opportunity to say what this means for them. So, these community based sessions really matter.
Alongside this work by the Bank, the most recent report by UN Rapporteur Philip Alston and the work of the Poverty and Inequality Commission in Scotland, combine to build a clearer picture of the very human side of economics – the true impact of how our economy works is laid bare for all who choose to look.
We see here the “people factor” – the truth of lives lived on the edge of destitution. We see the truth of lives blighted by insecure work or cuts to crucial public services. We see the ideology built around poverty which treats people who cannot work or who are disabled as ‘other’ – as scroungers. Socio-economic inequality is real and with us.
The concept of social capital was discussed by Mr. Carney in his opening remarks at our session – the unpaid work which lays the foundations of our economy; his summing up gave a clear nod to the gender inequalities which are deepened by structural and economic factors.
Inequality and human rights featured strongly in the discussion with Bank colleagues and what was clear was the direct role that the voluntary and community sector plays in dealing with the effects of government policies which have decimated community and public services. The third sector continues to be the replacement safety net for families across the City whilst our economic model continues to fail many. This was a key point made by Helen Macneil, GCVS Chief Executive, in her introductory marks to Mr. Carney:
“The fact that we can’t seem to adequately house, feed and educate our population, in one of the richest countries in the world has to be the a cause for concern for every one of us and a spur to find alternative economic models that allow us to do so. “
The UK Government is rightly criticized for its ideological approaches (dressed up in language about fiscal responsibility). However, participants at the Bank of England session made the following point strongly – Scotland cannot claim the moral or policy high ground. There was debate about access to social care, commissioning and charging; the cost of childcare; the prevalence of low paid work and ongoing challenges in relation to housing. There was debate about the poorer employment experience of BAME communities and people with disabilities and continued gender inequalities.
There is a lot of high level debate about creating an inclusive economic approach and a more equal Scotland. The gap between political rhetoric and the reality of life for so many was a constant theme at the Bank of England session. How very timely then is the work of the Poverty and Inequality Commission (alongside the IPPR).
So, where next? Our outgoing Chief Executive Helen Macneil and my colleague Sim Sharp have been discussing further potential work with the Bank. Mr. Carney mentions in his blog on the Community Session about working with us to better understand the economic contribution of the third sector. GCVS will seek to work with Mark and his team to take this forward. You can read Mr. Carney’s blog here and also view a video about the event alongside photos and images of the day on our website.
Meanwhile, the development of a GCVS led third sector human rights defenders’ network in the City provides a space in which civil society can identify solutions and ideas for tackling the challenges we laid out in our discussions with the Governor and the Bank of England.
The last word must go to our outgoing Chief Executive Helen. Helen was instrumental in bringing this event to Glasgow and she has fought passionately for equality during her careers:
“The UK has become stuck in trying to meet the needs of its people because we are using 19th and 20th century thinking, systems, concepts in responding to 21st century issues. We’re not facing up to 21st century conditions – changing demography and its impact on people and communities; lack of social mobility; changes in the labour market; increasing social isolation; the impact of social media; and the wider digital revolution …and climate change.
We’re never going to address these effectively if we stay as we are – in silos and comfort zones. Our decision making is slow when it needs to be fast; our systems are clunky when they need to be flexible; our public institutions are risk averse and uncertain when they need to be solutions focused, confident and assured.”
GCVS believes that the third sector has a critical role to play in meeting these economic and social challenges – but only if it’s respected and funded appropriately. We are grateful to the Governor and his team for listening to and acknowledging the expertise and experience of the third sector.
Watch our website www.gcvs.org.uk for more events and updates on policy work and debates about the key issues which affect the families and communities we serve. You should also consider attending the Bank’s Citizens Panels. More details here.
You can read Helen’s introduction to the Bank Of England event Here