Work for the Reduction of Inequalities in Society

Unmet needs in the midst of excess on a finite planet call for policies that will redistribute income and wealth. As Gough (2017,p. 179) argues,‘[w]hen the cake shrinks, its distribution becomes critical’. One step towards this is to join and support labour and community unions. A number of studies have indicated that unionisation has a significant equalising effect on national income distribution, with less inequality across society where there is higher union membership (Dabla-Norris et al., 2015; Dromey, 2018; Farber et al., 2018).

Another step is to introduce eco-social policies, such as those advocated by Kate Raworth and Ian Gough. Kate Raworth’s (2017) doughnut-shaped diagram represents both the productive limits of the earth’s systems, the ceiling that should not be exceeded, and the minimum foundation for human survival and well-being. This illustrates how we should develop policies which set a lower threshold of wellbeing, below which no one should fall, and an upper threshold of environmental limits that should not be transgressed. We need an adequate minimum but also a maximum to avoid overstepping planetary boundaries. This could include a cap on excessive incomes and wealth. With similar aims, Gough (2017) advocates widening social consumption, that is, making provision for more public goods, as this would reduce opportunities for people to compare consumption, one of the drivers of excess. Greater social consumption is more ecologically efficient than private consumption, partly as a result of a better allocation of resources. Similarly, Monbiot argues that we need ‘private sufficiency and public luxury’ so that we could share the goods and services that we do not need to individually own, that is, free-at-the-point-of-use swimming pools, parks, playgrounds, sports centres, galleries, allotments and public transport (Monbiot,2017a, n.p.).These ideas are also reflected in the call for Universal Basic Services from the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) (2017).The IGP recommended that, in the UK, we need to build more social housing units, offered for free to those in most need; supply free bus passes to the entire population; develop a food service for those who experience food insecurity; and provide basic phone and Internet services, as well as free TV licences.The idea to provide an ecological universal basic income (UBI), that is, a regular payment from the state to every citizen on ecological grounds, is another possible eco-social policy. If managed well, an ecological UBI could run alongside social programmes, services and ‘green jobs’.There are many socially useful jobs that need doing but are either not done or not paid for, because they are not profit-making. A UBI payment could pay people to do those important jobs.

On an international scale, ‘contraction and convergence’ of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across nations has also been suggested as a way of addressing climate justice. Every country would bring its GHG emissions, per capita, to a level which is equal for all countries, leading to a contraction for some countries, a growth for others and an overall convergence (Meyer, 2000). According to this strategy, in the Low- and Middle-Income Countries, economies would grow and redistribute wealth until the basic needs of all are met, at which point these countries would also stabilise their growth (e.g. Lawn and Clarke, 2010).

While these policies would require greater state control and investment, in recent years there have been growing calls for greater levels of state intervention, including nationalisation of utilities (Legatum Institute and Populus, 2017). For example, as I write, there is currently a public outcry in the UK that the government refuses to extend food programmes for children into the school holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic (Chakelian, 2020). This indicates that, when people understand that we are facing a crisis, they no longer believe as much in selfish individualism. By implementing the above policies, we would ensure that everyone has support to lead a dignified, decent and pleasant life in the transition to sustainability.

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