There has been much talk from the Scottish Government about the importance of "opportunities for all".
Traditionally, this is considered by members of the chattering classes as something that one should do (or strive to do) as a social good; a good thing to aim for when the country can afford it.
However, providing decent work and fairly distributed wages across the country should not be thought of as simply a nice thing to have. Professor Joseph Stiglitz, who has contributed significantly to the Scottish Government's thinking on economic issues, outlines in a recent paper that inequality can contribute to economic volatility and the creation of economic crises.
Similarly, economist Stewart Lansley highlights the importance of economic equality in achieving a strong economy. Both emphasise that a balancing of opportunities across our economy makes it stronger and, therefore, better able to withstand shocks when they come along.
Building on this new understanding of economics, the Scottish council for voluntary Organisations thinks the Scottish Government should look to widen its National Performance Framework away from economic growth. The framework is the set of indicators by which we are meant to see if the Government is successful in its work, and against which spending decisions by departments are meant to be checked.
Why shift emphasis? It is essential to move from the idea that economic growth is a good in itself, the be-all and end-all. Working on a minimum wage on a temporary contract you would much rather was permanent will help increase the country's Gross Domestic Product, but chances are that it will not leave the person involved feeling particularly satisfied with their quality of life.
Trundling along on the treadmill of "growth", not gaining any new skills and not being given any wayto progress is not how we will build a fairer society. Nor, as Stiglitz, Lansley and others point out, a strong economy. The National Performance Framework is dominated by the mantra of economic growth, which is posited as being more important than anything else. This needs to change without delay.
Oxfam Scotland, WWF Scotland, the Carnegie UK Trust and others also understand that growth for growth's sake is not the answer.
Many people might ask why charities are involving themselves in the complicated discipline of economics. Surely charities have more important things to do, such as helping people, it might be asked. But the evidence of this new economic thinking - and the crash that showed us what the dominant economic way of working can lead to - demonstrates that, unless we push for change in this area, we will be in for the same again.
Already, off the back of this crisis, we have witnessed a significant decrease in the mid-range hourly earnings for UK workers. The tangible effect of this on people's lives can be most clearly noted in the massive increase in food banks across our country.
It is astounding that people are not more outraged about this situation. How can twenty-first century Britain choose largely to ignore rather than address the root causes of such poverty?
There is inherent instability and inequality in our economy. The imbalances allow one region to prosper while another founders, while the over-reliance on a "flexible", poorly-paid workforce enables a highly-paid top end to take the cream. Opting not to address instability and inequality in the economy will give us the ingredients for an even deeper economic and social disaster. Not taking action now will mean that we store up even more problems for later.
That is why we urge Scottish politicians to act now to do what they can to rebalance our economy. This cannot wait until the outcome of the independence referendum. It is only by doing everything possible now that we will have some chance of halting the rise in poverty across our country.
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