Climate breakdown and ecological destruction pose real and present threats to traditional welfare states in the global North (let alone the rest of the world, unfortunately largely omitted from this talk). Taking this seriously requires four transformations to traditional ‘social policy’, each more difficult than the last. First, to devise and upscale novel eco-social programmes to tap synergies between wellbeing and sustainability via transformative investment programmes such as a Green New Deal. Second, to realise the best principles of the welfare state by extending the range of universal basic services in kind. Third, to prepare for a fair post-growth economy via a strategy of ‘reduce and redistribute’. And last, to develop a global equity framework to meet climatic and ecological threats in a globally just way that recognizes current international inequalities.
It is difficult to overstate how dramatic this trajectory is. It requires nothing less than a total and rapid reversal of our present direction as a civilization. As the co-chair of an IPCC working group put it, ‘The next few years are probably the most important in our history’. It is remarkable and shaming that, with a few exceptions, the study of social policy has hardly stirred itself to confront these challenges.
Ian Gough is Visiting Professor in CASE (Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion) and an Associate of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, both at the London School of Economics. He is also Emeritus Professor at the University if Bath. His past books include The Political Economy of the Welfare State; A Theory of Human Need; Global Capital, Human Needs and Social Policies; Insecurity and Welfare Regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America; and Wellbeing in Developing Countries. His latest book titled Heat, Greed and Human Need: Climate Change, Capitalism and Sustainable Wellbeing, was published in October 2017, preceded by a range of articles in academic journals including the Cambridge Journal of Economics and the Royal Society Philosophical Abstracts. He is now researching a set of related issues, including universal basic services, maximum income, a consumption ceiling, and inessential versus essential work.
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