Inspiring change: inclusive growth
"What drove me to do what I do at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) started in the 1980s, growing up in Glasgow and seeing things change around me, seeing cities being broken and then rebuilt, seeing industry broken and people being left on the wayside, seeing cities and cultures try to rebuild themselves from the bottom up,” JRF chief executive Campbell Robb told delegates in his opening address to the organisation’s conference.
Entitled Achieving inclusive growth for Scotland, the one-day event in Glasgow was standing room only, with a huge variety of speakers from JRF, the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council and Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Angela Constance MSP, among others.
JRF teamed up with NHS Health Scotland, Business in the Community Scotland and the RSA to provide the event.
The conference was designed to help delegates share innovative policies and practices, as well as give them the opportunity to discuss how inclusive growth can contribute to solving poverty in Scotland, following the Scottish council elections and UK general election.
Throughout the day, there were panel discussions and workshop sessions from a number of high profile speakers and learning was shared on how inclusive growth can become a reality through policy development and integrated working.
Robb said: “We’re really pleased to have some great partners [for this event], who are working together to really understand the challenges we face.
“Despite the great strides forward we have made, millions of Scots still live in poverty, 420,000 in working households and one in five employed in Scotland work for less than the voluntary living wage.
“We still have a very significant issue to deal with and that’s why we need to think about what we’re doing.”
Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Public Health Science at NHS Health Scotland, said inclusive growth has the potential to affect real change in reducing health inequalities.
He added: “In Scotland, mortality rates as a result of inequalities are higher than the rest of Europe.
“We know that rising income inequality in the UK cost us nine percentage points in the growth rate of GDP per capita between 1990 and 2010 – that’s approximately £100 billion.
“Taking action on inequalities is not just the right thing to do – it’s the economically sensible thing to do. Improved health for everyone means not just a fairer Scotland, but also a more productive, prosperous Scotland.”
Angela Constance started her keynote speech by quoting political philosopher, John Rawls.
“A just society is one where if you knew everything about it, you’d be willing to enter it in a random place.”
She continued: “In other words, you’d choose to join this just society, no matter where you were born.
“This is a tough challenge to us all, and certainly isn’t true for us in Scotland just yet. We know that here in Glasgow two children born only a few streets apart can have very different outcomes in life through no fault of their own.
“That is why the Scottish Government is focused on delivering economic growth in a way that’s more inclusive – and by that I mean inclusive of people, and inclusive of places. What we all want is a country where people can flourish, no matter where they are born or who they are.”
She said it was in the Scottish Government’s interest to grow the economy in a “fairer and a more inclusive” way.
“This means putting people at the heart of how we understand, nurture, and share our economy.
“Our economic strategy, published two years ago, recognised this need for a more inclusive approach to economic growth, underpinned by the twin pillars of boosting competitiveness and tackling inequalities.
“We made it clear that in Scotland, we will put a different emphasis on growth – that we won’t pursue growth at any cost or limit its benefits to a just few. But that we will ensure growth means prosperity and opportunity for all – regardless of who you are, and what part of Scotland you live in.
“We put emphasis on understanding what we need to do to tackle the uncomfortable truths behind some of the positive headline performance, such as tackling regional variation in economic performance and opportunity, addressing the gender pay gap, tackling in-work poverty and issues around pay and progression.”
City deals were also a big topic for the day.
Campbell Robb said: “Scotland has enjoyed a strong economic record but too many people have not shared in its success, which is a cost and waste our economy and society cannot afford.
“We need the Scottish Government, city leaders and Westminster to work together to pursue this goal, starting with progress on Scotland’s city deals to tackle poverty.
“This agenda has momentum in England following the election of powerful metro mayors and, with political and economic uncertainty ahead, Scotland needs inclusive growth now to create a stronger and fairer economy.
“We need growth but everyone needs to benefit from it.”
The conference also heard from people who shared their experiences with delegates and gave their views of what is happening on the ground.
Sandra Collins, part of the Poverty Leadership Panel, shared her experiences of being trapped in poverty as a single mother with four children, and the difficulties of being able to participate in society on an income that allowed for no leisure activities.
She explained to the audience how, with access to the right childcare, she was able to increase her skills and training to open up more employment and volunteering opportunities.
She said: “About 12 years ago, I became a lone parent, I escaped from domestic violence and I was very much in poverty. Poverty for me was like having glue in my shoes, I was stuck and it was exhausting.
“That’s how life was for me then. I got benefits, I managed. I didn’t smoke, rarely drank and didn’t really go out, I had just enough to feed myself and kids and pay the bills. But life like that makes you a shadow citizen in this city, you can’t join in and it’s exhausting because you keep having to say no to your children.
“I was determined to make life better for myself, I was fed up being a shadow.”
Collins started to volunteer in her community but when her children were older, she recounted how difficult it was to find a job which worked with her family commitments.
“I wanted any job but it couldn’t be done,” she said.
Collins told how she met “one good person” at the Job Centre which led to a course to improve her computer skills.
“I was emotionally raw and I was terrified but I came out with a pass,” she said.
She then went to Cardonald College, which had a nursery on site so she could study while her 18-month-old baby was looked after, and came out with an HNC in health and social care. Later she got the opportunity to go to university, again, she said, thanks to meeting another “good person” who believed in her.
Meanwhile Collins had continued to volunteer in her community and eventually took a place on the Poverty Leadership Panel.
She said: “Poverty is massive and overwhelming but when I thought about it, I realised that this was a combination of my own life so it got less overwhelming along the way.
“There are a lot of good people out there, who will try and turn cogs and help people. All we’re asking of you today is to turn the wee cogs for people.”
Collins’ speech was important in showing how inclusive growth can work in a real, practical way and was very well received by the audience.
Looking at the conference as a whole, the message which came out most strongly was that the inclusive growth agenda remains a hugely important issue in Scotland – and that there is a real appetite from policymakers to take it forward.