As we slowly emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown, we are at a crossroads. We can return to the unequal economy that characterised pre-Covid Britain, or we can create something better. The last few months have shown that we can respond to crisis with kindness, and communities – not corporations – have led the way.
It's time we gave communities more ownership of the wider economy. By widening ownership, we can narrow inequality and create a new normal – one where you own your workplace, own your community and own the future.
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Covid-19 has revealed just how broken our economy is. In the world’s sixth richest economy, too many are struggling to just put food on the table. Deaths in the most deprived areas of England have been more than double those in the least deprived. The workers we rely on to take the greatest risks during this pandemic – from nursing our sick to keeping buses moving – also take home some of the lowest wages. On top of this, structural and institutional racism means these inequalities are disproportionately experienced by BAME people.
Not only is this inequality costing lives and livelihoods, but it is also harmful to economic growth. Unless we reduce inequality, we risk weak and short-lived growth as we try to recover from what the Bank of England has predicted will be the deepest recession in 300 years. Without fundamentally tackling inequality, any recovery will be fragile and vulnerable to economic shocks – such as a second wave of the virus.
This inequality is a symptom of narrow ownership of our economy – wealth and power rests in the hands of a small number of investors, shareholders and executives. They too often make decisions in their own short-term interests and not for the wider benefit of workers, consumers, communities and the environment. The result is an unequal distribution of wealth, low productivity and weak growth.
We need to widen ownership so that more workers, consumers, and communities have a stake in the businesses that shape their lives and the wider economy. Critically, economies with a greater percentage of co-operatively owned businesses are more equal, more productive and more resilient.
Ownership means taking control of your future and having a voice in the decisions that affect your community. Through this crisis, communities have once again proven that we are by nature co-operative and have rediscovered what we can achieve by working together. We need to rewrite the rules governing our economy so that these values are reflected too.
After every crisis there is a window of opportunity not just to recover but to fix the root causes of the crisis. If we don’t act now, we risk a return to the status quo where entrenched inequality ruins lives, slows growth and causes us to crash again sooner.
With 68% of people saying they do not want the renewed sense of community spirit to end, our task now is to give this co-operation institutional support before it is defeated. It is our responsibility to protect it, to co-operate, and to grow together.
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Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford
Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard