By Frances Rayner


OUR economy is killing us.

Even before the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, rates of healthy life expectancy were falling in Scotland. People living in the poorest areas in the UK were dying younger because of deliberate cuts to social security and public services. Now, each week sees a new headline about the rising tide of destitution.

At the same time, the dangers of runaway climate change – already making life unlivable for many in Africa, Asia and Latin America – suddenly feel close to home as temperatures soared to 35C in Scotland last week. Extreme heat poses a major health risk, especially to those with respiratory or heart conditions. Hot days see 12,000 extra people hospitalised across the UK and the number of elderly people dying during heatwaves is growing rapidly.

Both the cost of living crisis and climate change stem from deliberate choices our governments have made about the way we provide for our collective needs.

With one in four children growing up in poverty, wages often failing to cover our basic needs and a stubborn reliance on fossil fuels that overheat our planet, isn’t it time we redesigned our economy?

The Scottish Government’s new 10-Year Strategy for Economic Transformation includes the welcome aspiration to become a Wellbeing Economy. But its substance is rooted in the same outdated logic that has got us here; that continually growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the amount of goods and services we produce – will benefit all of us.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently joined the chorus of voices arguing that GDP is a “poor metric of human wellbeing”. A wildfire that destroys your home is good for GDP because construction creates "economic activity", while caring for loved ones has no value in GDP.

In a Wellbeing Economy we would ask first, how can we ensure every one of us has what we need to live a dignified life while protecting the environment we rely on?

It is unfathomable that an economy in service of people and planet would leave families to choose between heating and eating while oil and gas company profits soar. BP’s CEO has likened his company to a “cash machine” generating returns for already-wealthy investors. A Wellbeing Economy would nurture enterprises, business models and industries that actually serve humanity, use regulation to rein in businesses that cause harm and invest in long-term, preventative measures like insulating our homes so they are less energy-intensive and costly to heat.

The Scottish Government’s first Wellbeing Economy Monitor examines more meaningful measures of our economic performance, such as poverty, low pay, preventable deaths and biodiversity loss. But this data will only be useful if it informs key decisions such as budgets, infrastructure projects and the type of support delivered to businesses.

We cannot afford to wait another day to start reprogramming our economy.

Frances Rayner is Comms Lead at Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland