Focusing on Care can address both the Climate and the Cost-of-living Crises
Date Posted: Thursday 12th January 2023
With the cost-of-living crisis expected to continue to wreak havoc on people’s lives this year, moving towards a green and caring economy has never been more urgent.
In his speech at last year’s global climate conference, COP27, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak talked up UK climate leadership and cast the struggle against climate change as “a global mission for new jobs and clean growth”. This rings hollow when set against the government’s policy to open up over 100 new oil and gas licences and the Chancellor’s missed opportunity to seriously address the dual climate and energy crises in the autumn statement, as laid out in the latest budget response published by the Women’s Budget Group. It is no surprise then that the Prime Minister’s five-point pledge for the new year did not address the climate emergency.
Looking back at the many conversations held at COP27, sponsored by major polluter Coca-Cola and accompanied by greenwashed fossil fuel announcements, they reflect business as usual. In the 27 years since the first COP meeting, we have seen increased greenhouse gas emissions, rising temperatures and the escalation of climate-change related disasters. It’s clear that our current economic system can’t resolve the climate crisis. As energy and food prices soar and the cost-of-living crisis leaves the poorest in society unable to cope, it’s clear it also can’t address inequality.
Both crises are rooted in an economic logic that exploits the earth and the people who inhabit it for profit. The latest report from the Women’s Budget Group and Women’s Environment Network argues that we can repair the damage of this careless system with a new green and caring economy. Investing in the physical infrastructure needed for a low-carbon economy, such as renewable energy networks and public transport, is crucial, but we argue that social infrastructure – the care, health and education services we all need to live – is just as important.
Jobs in these services are essential to keep society going, but they are also green jobs. These jobs are based on human interaction and relationships, rather than the production of materials or waste, meaning they are naturally labour – rather than resource or carbon – intensive. The average job in health and care produces 26 times less greenhouse gas emissions than the average manufacturing job and 1500 times less than a job in the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, expanding jobs in these sectors, for example through a universal social care service, would not only address inequality by meeting everyone’s needs, but would also provide a source of inherently low-carbon jobs across the UK, which could be prioritised for those moving out of sectors that need to transition.
Care work, in particular, has been overlooked and undervalued, with women and racialised groups bearing the brunt of low pay and precarious contracts. Instead of attacking these jobs in a new period of austerity, we should be creating many more and crucially paying them properly, improving life for existing workers and making this essential work a more appealing career prospect for men and women.
How can we pay for a care system that meets everyone’s needs, a universal childcare service, and a properly resourced public education system that equips all children for the future? Many of these changes would pay for themselves, with increased tax revenues from new jobs and with costs saved from having a healthier and happier population. But we would also need to restructure our financial system, directing finance to green and caring activities, supported by progressive taxation, including through a windfall tax. In a green and caring economy, we would reorder our economy – and our lives – around wellbeing, rather than profit, caring for each other and the planet. We would share well-designed public services and amenities, consume fewer but better quality goods, distribute work more equally, spend more fulfilling time with our families and communities, and value the labour that sustains life.
Few current politicians have a positive vision for the future in which our lives change for the better. But this wasn’t always the case. After the Second World War, when the UK was reeling from six years of human and economic loss, we saw the creation of the welfare state, caring for people with massive investment in the new NHS and in social housing. Much more recently, we saw that governments could find enormous resources to mitigate the worst effects of Covid-19, even if this was done too late, and unevenly. In one of the world’s largest economies, we can certainly mobilise an equivalent effort to address the climate and inequality crises. We can’t afford not to.