by Ceri Simpson, second year student at the University of Sheffield

Economic growth is placed 8th on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, above climate action, reducing inequalities and creating sustainable cities and communities. These are all admirable goals but we need to be aware that economic growth can lead to economic equalities growing as well.

source: https://news.un.org/en/story/2015/12/519172-sustainable-development-goals-kick-start-new-year

ARNEC lessons

I had an amazing time at the ARNEC conference. Being a witness to international discussions promoting climate recovery and Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs was invigorating, especially seeing how they can be culturally translated to local areas. Hopefully in the future we will see the fruits of these labours enshrined in government policies across Asia Pacific countries.

However, one thing that was consistently highlighted was how to promote economic growth and I didn’t quite understand that. I recognise that I’m coming from a purely people centred approach — I study Education, Culture and Childhood which involves very little time understanding economics — so it’s more than likely that I’m missing nuance here. People want the best for the people they care about and at a national level this must mean looking at the generalised picture of wealth, particularly under the competitive nature of global capitalism. To a certain extent, money can buy happiness, or at least improve material living conditions. It just seems that with economic growth, the risk of widening economic inequalities increases and I’m puzzled as to why this isn’t part of the discussion.

Economic interest has doomed us all

It’s important to recognise the impact economic interest has had in fuelling climate disasters. From oil spills at sea, to fracking and the overproduction of non-recyclable materials, the common denominator is economic growth and capital expansion. These interests are incompatible with life and it seems strange to focus on the thing that is hurting us instead of resisting that and building something new. Being rich is nice but being alive is even better. Particularly as those with the lowest carbon footprint are suffering the worst consequences of climate change.

A brief overview of economic growth in the U.K.

Looking at the U.K.’s economy it would seem like we’re in a pretty good position worldwide (even despite Brexit), reaching number six in GDP, and our standard of living is relatively pretty high. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the U.K.’s wealth is consolidated in very small, highly concentrated areas and often at the expense of others. Nearly 24% of Brits and 34% of our children live in poverty. Persistent, working and pensioner poverty are yet to be addressed as well as the impact income inequality is having on our mental health (at some point we need to recognise mindfulness won’t solve all our problems). Young adults are the most educated generation thus far, and yet the promise of the U.K.’s knowledge-based economy has yet to be fulfilled and the same jobs we had as teenagers are waiting for us after graduating. Except now we have a degree and copious amounts of debt. Or we can settle for the alternative, zero hour contracts and temp agency work that offers little financial stability and the need for multiple minimum wage jobs. But at least we’re top six GDP!

The U.K. clearly has the money to fund programs that can reduce socioeconomic inequalities and yet this is seen as a bad investment as it won’t help to grow capital short term. Seeing other countries prioritising economic growth over environmental growth, or equality growth, or sustainability growth, is disheartening and could lead to replicating western inequalities in new contexts.

How to move forward

Practically, we do need money. We need money to live and to fund these policies so to ignore economics completely probably wouldn’t work. But what if funds for these programs came from utilising what people already have and adapting it to suit new needs? Enriching, stimulating environments already exist in nature and don’t have to be purpose built; toys are easily made from recycled, accessible materials and ECD programs are already being delivered in ethnic minorities mother tongues across Asia Pacific by organisations such as the Nepal Lhomi Society and Childfund Vietnam. Meaning, we have everything we need to promote equality, sustainability and environmental growth. Let’s utilise it. We can reduce the pressure on financing them as well as reduce climate implications through a circular economy and create more opportunities to build international relations and pool resources, knowledge and solutions which would strengthen social cohesion across international lines. We are already seeing this happen at ARNEC and it’s a sustainable goal worth promoting. Looking after people will help look after money which will help look after people, so economies will grow automatically by prioritising communities.

The U.K. has a lot to learn from other countries in terms of sustainable environmental policies. While we are campaigning for these, it’s important to resist unsustainable consumerism in the meantime and choose (or even better, make and/or repurpose!) environmentally friendly gifts, particularly around holidays that encourage waste and yes, I am talking specifically about Christmas. It’s time to start thinking and organising collectively at local levels, to start sharing resources and for governments to put economic growth on the back burner to allow people, equality and the environment to flourish.

Ceri Simpson (Twitter account: @CeriSimpson) is a second year student at the University of Sheffield. Her interests include social justice, accessibility and community organisation; in particular, how these relate to children.

Image references

Child Poverty Action Group (2013). % Children living in poverty. [image] Available at: https://cpag.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/child-poverty-national-priority [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

United Nations (2015). Sustainable Development Goals to kick in with start of new year. [image] Available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2015/12/519172-sustainable-development-goals-kick-start-new-year [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

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