Skip to main content

In 2016, we witnessed the global rise of populism. I believe strongly that this is a reflection on the inability of governments to adequately address the big challenges arising from globalisation.

For example, the low-waged in relatively rich, developed nations have seen a squeeze on their incomes as it has become harder to compete in a global marketplace. A recent poll found that 49% of participants felt that globalisation has pushed wages down for British workers, while 51% thought that it had led to more inequality between rich and poor.

It is not the case that global liberal elites have deliberately ignored this looming problem. However, the responses we have seen, such as the raising of the minimum wage to the living in the UK, and America’s efforts to provide healthcare for the poorest, are palliative policies which have not addressed some of the underlying causes of inequality. In my opinion, countries have missed the opportunity to include more of their populations in economic growth and we must take the social frustrations being expressed through ballot boxes seriously.

This was a key theme at the 2017 World Economic Forum (WEF), where a new report was launched on Inclusive Growth and Development. This report includes the Inclusive Development Index (IDI) which measures 109 countries for inclusive growth. Out of these, 30 are considered within the sub-index of advanced economies. The UK ranks 21st just above America at 23rd. The marked difference is the Scandinavian region of Europe – at the top of the IDI is Norway, with Sweden 6th and Finland 11th. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data also shows that the UK had a higher level of income inequality (36%) than most European countries in 2013 based on the Gini coefficient for disposable income.

Growth in many advanced economies has not translated well into social inclusion, but I would argue this is due to a lack of focussed attention rather than an iron law of capitalism. We must encourage the development of new policy frameworks and creative ideas to strengthen broad-based economic growth that is inclusive of a large part of the nation’s labour force, as Bright Blue consistently argues.

If we are looking at developing an agenda to boost social inclusion and economic efficiency, we should do so through a stronger focus on appropriate institutions. The role of institutions is a key principle in Bright Blue’s underlying ethos. Institutions must be able to make the adjustments to reflect a fast-moving world, or ensure that those entrusted in their care are well protected and equipped for global challenges. For example, if the education system failed to teach computer literacy, a whole generation of school children would grow up digitally disadvantaged. If basic labour standards fail to keep pace with technological changes and are too inflexible to support rising productivity through skills adaptation, then a whole generation of workers will find themselves facing redundancy.

These changes will only intensify as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ strikes and new technologies threaten the old order.

I support Bright Blue’s vision which believes in releasing human potential. Although we have substantial challenges to navigate as a global community, it is critically important that we continue to believe that individuals, no matter their background or identity, can flourish given the right support. We must provide opportunities for those who have been described as ‘left behind’, ensuring that they also start to see rising living standards and learn how to engage with and benefit from wider technological progress.

Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP is Conservative MP for Meriden and is the Second Church Estates Commissioner. This is an article from Bright Blue’s magazine The robotic revolution published before the general election.