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The road to recovery must not charge a social toll

The road to recovery must not charge a social toll

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4 min read

Social justice and fairness need to flow through the UK government's decision-making processes if we are to build better for all.

Recently, there’s been quite a bit of commentary around our future pandemic recovery, with some predicting a ‘new roaring twenties’. This sounds great — if you’re the sort to selectively cherry-pick history to suit your own agenda.

Behind the Hollywood glitz and glamour attached to those heady days there was serious wealth inequality and poor living standards for the great many have-nots. A century on and the economic landscape is much different and very heavily based upon digital technology.

Our data-driven society has proven its worth, with a huge section of the workforce able to adapt to at-home working at short notice due to the global pandemic. But it has hardly been easy.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of my own constituents over the past year, including many business owners, and know just how challenging this ordeal has been for the private sector too. For many, there won’t be a rush to return to business as usual. A more flexible and blended approach will probably become the new normal.

Whether the motivation is to offer employees a greater degree of balance, to save money on office overheads, or a combination of both, I know that many businesses will likely be contemplating this approach.

Our method of economic and societal reconstruction cannot be left to individual companies to decide upon. Now is the time for us to question who exactly we are building back for and who will end up better off as a consequence.

Fairness, equity and justice must be our guiding principles as we emerge into our post-pandemic reality

Today is the United Nations World Day of Social Justice and the focus this year is a fitting call for social justice in the digital economy.

The sudden imposition of working from home on millions of people has many lessons to teach us, not least that it was easier for some than others. If this is a vision of our future, as the digital economy continues to grow we need to make sure we’re not leaving people behind.

The road to recovery cannot be a toll road, with lower socioeconomic groups paying a much higher price. Social justice and fairness need to flow through the decision-making processes at the very highest levels of government if we are to build better for all – not some.

A fairer economy will benefit all. Equity builds equity.

The Scottish government recently published a report entitled ‘If not now, when?’ The report is a call to action with the potential to deliver transformational change in our communities. It makes suggestions to build upon the existing Scottish government Fair Work Action Plan which has already been in place for two years and sets out plans for Scotland to be a world-leading Fair Work Nation by 2025.

There’s also been an enormous amount of work done North of the border to encourage employers to commit to fair work practices, such as paying the Living Wage.

More than a quarter of all Living Wage accredited employers across the UK are Scottish; a statistic that is testament to the laudable focus not only of the Scottish government, but of stakeholders and the private sector. I champion this agenda, but I also acknowledge just how much more work needs to be done to deliver on our ideals.

Fairness, equity and justice must be our guiding principles as we emerge into our post-pandemic reality and the most obvious application is with employment.

Throughout the Brexit process, the UK government has vowed to strengthen workers’ rights. But we need deeds, not just words. We need more action to address deep-rooted issues like gender inequality, digital exclusion, insecure work, and low pay. Above all, we need government to commit to building back better for all.

The road to recovery can’t be built by the many for the prosperity of an elite few, either by design or by accident. If the Conservative government doesn’t draw its focus on fairness, the UK will suffer both domestically and internationally.

The Scottish government will continue to build back better for everybody - but while employment law remains reserved to Westminster Scotland is doing this with one hand tied behind its back.

We’re leading the UK, but if Westminster doesn’t rise to meet our ambition, then who can really blame the Scottish people when they decide that we’re doing better, but we’re not better together?

 

David Linden is the Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow East and SNP spokesperson for work and pensions.

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