Delivering on inclusive growth through citizenship engagement

By Emma Woodford, Board Member of EPHA

The concept of inclusive growth is based on the premise that economic growth is accompanied. There is growing recognition about the need to tackle inequality. American President Obama declared that inequality is “the defining challenge of our age and the issue was at the centre of the discussions at the World Economic Forum in Davos. At the international level, equity in the post 2015 development framework is also gaining political momentum. This represents a watershed shift in the discussion from economists arguing that inequality is necessary for growth or that inequality isn’t that big a deal. Against this back drop the discussions on “Changing the Conversation on Growth: Going Inclusive” are crucial to finding synergies between policies that drive growth and inclusiveness. The European Public Health Alliance encourages leaders to also consider people as crucial actors of change.

Engaging citizens in policy making and in achieving inclusive growth is a win-win solution. There is emerging evidence to show that citizen engagement can lead to better results in public policy making and development interventions. This extends to monitoring performance of governments, correcting public policy, ensuring the accountability of officials and public institutions, raising awareness on what people need and value, enhancing fiscal transparency, reflecting citizen’s priorities in public budgets, and evaluations suggest even reducing extreme poverty.

For the individual it is also a win, due to the role of social capital in creating prosperity and promoting wellbeing. Social connections and political voice improve quality of life, and are beneficial to the economy. The benefits of social connections extend to peoples’ health and to the probability of finding a job. The ability to participate as full citizens, to have a say in the framing of policies, to disagree and voice concerns are essential freedoms. Political voice also reduces the potential for conflicts, helps build consensus, enhances economic efficiency, social equity, and inclusiveness in public life.

Unfortunately the trend has not been to increase citizen engagement in policy making in Europe. Today a disenfranchised, excluded young generation is contributing to the current rise of social unrest and instability and the loss of faith in establishments. Meaningful engagement with citizens is the first step to build trust in institutions that are perceived as protecting the affluent at the expense of those who are bearing the loses 57 Ms. Emma Woodford is Board Member of the European Public Health Alliance.

After five years of economic crisis and a sluggish recovery, there is still an opportunity to prioritise well-being and social inclusion, while promoting civic participation. In May 2014, Europe’s 500 million people will vote on who will represent them in the European Parliament. EPHA is using this opportunity to remind policy makers that people are more than consumers, workers and drivers of growth. Newly elected MEPs should priories a healthy population which needed for both economic and social success. At the same time, 2014 will prepare the mid-term review for the Europe 2020 Strategy that aims to promote “Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive” growth. Unfortunately due to a lack political will, the EU’s first-ever social target of lifting 20 million people out of poverty is off track. The public health community is encouraging MEP candidates to commit to putting the social, employment and environmental objectives of the EU on equal footing as the economic ones.

Economic activity should promote wellbeing, social inclusion and better health for the public. In practice, this will require a shift in the design and governance of the European economy. Investment in health promotion, disease/injury prevention and high quality health services act as a driver for sustainable development. At the same time, quality employment and good working conditions for all is vital for health, including mental health, and social equity. All segments of the economy should be supported including informal careers and flexible arrangements for people who have caring duties outside of work. We need to ensure that we shape our economy to deliver the society we want, and not shape society solely in pursuit of economic objectives.

We must not be afraid to rethink the governance of our economies and political systems and put people at the heart of our societies. A good place to start would be to measure what we value, and not just value what we measure. For many years we have known the limits to GDP, yet far too often it is equated with wellbeing and better quality of life. Continued cooperation between the EU and the OECD can bring about to more accurate and progressive ways to evaluate progress, using criteria that are important to citizens, such as their health and well-being. There are other ways to assist the decision making process to take sustainability and social consequences into account. New ways of measuring progress and prioritizing people’s needs and wellbeing in the political process can restore confidence and faith in democracy that has been lost through unemployment, cuts to social support, lack of access to finance and the impacts of austerity.

- Changing the Conversation on Growth - Going Inclusive (Second OECD/Ford Foundation Workshop , 27 February 2014). Opinion notes

Last modified on July 4 2014.