Starting in April 2015, this new ESRC-awarded seminar series will over the next three years host a number of events that opens-up a much needed dialogue that imagines alternatives to finance-led growth in Britain.
Thanks to over £500 billion of government bailout funds to banks and business, the British economy appears to be ‘growing’ again. National statistics indicate GDP was restored to £2.52 trillion in 2013, nearly back to pre-2007-8 financial crisis levels. Unemployment is down, from 8.4% at the peak of the crisis to 6% in July 2014. Corporate profits are soaring, and the richest 10% of British households now control 54.1% of Britain’s wealth. Economists expect the ‘good news’ to keep coming: in November 2014, the International Business Times declared that the UK, the US and India will lead global economic growth over the next two years.
But recovery for business and the wealthy has come at a steep cost for everyone else. Austerity policies and regressive redistribution have spiked inequality: while in 2014 the UK has seen the biggest percentage increase in millionaires in Europe, over 13 million people (about 1 in 5) now live below the poverty line. Credit Suisse recently declared the UK to be the ‘only G7 country with wider inequality than at the turn of century’, while Oxfam predicts that, by 2020, ‘one in four British children will be living in poverty’.
Many UK households are facing a subsistence crisis. During 2013-14, over 900,000 people received 3-day emergency food and support from the Trussell Trust foodbanks, ‘a shocking 163 percent rise’ over 2012-13. Furthermore, ‘a staggering 30% of UK adults have either skipped meals, gone without food to feed their family or relied on relatives or friends for food during the last year, whilst 40% of UK households have grown more food insecure over that period’ – a trend that will not be reversed by recent drops in food and petrol prices. A growing body of evidence suggests that the UK’s austerity-driven model of ‘recovery’ is prompting an ‘unprecedented decline’ in British living standards.
Many households and families with access to credit have turned to debt as a strategy to make ends meet. Individuals now owe a record high £1.43 trillion and UK household debt has ‘rocketed to 170%’ of national income in 2014. Prospects for repaying this debt look grim amidst falling real wages and a surge in part-time, short-term and precarious work and are not helped by the prospect of possible mid-term deflation.
Importantly, ‘recovery’ has also deepened inequality and exclusion along lines of gender, race and ability. Women and disabled people have been disproportionately affected by rising poverty, tax increases, cuts to public services and other measures such as the bedroom tax and unemployment. Ethnic minorities are disproportionately suffering in the job market.
Yet these gendered, racialised and class-based costs of recovery remain largely unacknowledged and unaddressed by policy makers. Indeed, the deepening everyday subsistence struggles of most of the UK population are obscured in national-level data on economic recovery and growth. The very concepts used by economists and policy makers – recovery, growth, consumption and investment and the economic assumptions on which these are based – are simply inadequate to capture differentiated experiences across gender, race, generation and space. In short, we are trapped in old concepts that maintain the old indicators of economic achievement and narrow our focus to the engineering of the level of debts, deficits, taxes and expenditure, while ignoring the broader social challenges.
Hosted in collaboration between PERC and Speri, this seminar series moves the debate about the UK recovery forward by introducing an alternative ‘discovery’ framework. On the one hand economic recovery can be a positive notion where the UK returns to health and strength; on the other hand, recovery can be a pessimistic notion in which the UK does not learn from the mistakes of the past or address the challenges of the future—negating any notion of progress. Recovery simply understood in terms of a return to GDP growth—at whatever rate—masks more than it reveals; because to consider a return to pre-crisis growth a success does nothing to rethink the central economic issues that face British economy and society. Through a series of regular meetings these research seminars will work to develop an interdisciplinary program of research that moves this debate from a ‘recovery’ from financialisation to a ‘discovery’ of potential futures for the UK economy. By framing our uncertain future in terms of “discovery” we explore the wider social crisis of growing inequality and falling standards of living as well as new ways out of long-term predicaments like the ecological limits to growth without returning or falling-back on economic fundamentals. We are committed to developing forms of knowledge that break with this growth obsession and that allow multiple voices capable of narrating the sense of economic struggle to be heard once again.
If you’re interested in attending any of the workshops, please contact Daniela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text in part reproduced from Speri, 10 February 2015.