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MSPs show their Humankind side

Posted by Katherine Trebeck Senior Researcher

3rd Oct 2012

Pic - Andrew Cowan / Scottish Parliament

On the second day of the current parliamentary year, Members of the Scottish Parliament debated a motion welcoming the Oxfam Humankind Index for Scotland. Oxfam Scotland Research and Policy Adviser Katherine Trebeck says it's a step along the road to chalenging economic orthodoxy.

The Humankind Index is a new measure of Scotland's prosperity and is built following a wide ranging consultation with Scottish people about what is important to them and what they need to live well in their communities.

The debate itself saw members of most political parties in Scotland share the view that the deficiencies of GDP are increasingly apparent. As one MSP said, quoting the Oxfam briefing, 'GDP is consumption orientated and distribution blind'.

Many organisations submitted briefings to MSPs ahead of the debate - WWF Scotland, Unison Scotland, the Carnegie Trust UK, the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Poverty Alliance, Volunteer Development Scotland, and of course Oxfam. Extra time was required to let every MSP who wanted to speak make their contribution. The Humankind Index was described as the first, but not the last, word in moving beyond GDP as a measure of Scotland's progress. One MSP even described it as 'potentially revolutionary'.

But for Oxfam, with our commitment to addressing poverty, the Humankind Index for Scotland is about more than just challenging the dominant measures of economic orthodoxy, important though that is.

It is about challenging economic orthodoxy itself. Challenging an orthodoxy that has been described as 'treacle down economics' - so called because it is lovely and sweet for those at the top, but rather sticky and messy for those at the bottom. In moving beyond this unsustainable economic model, the Oxfam Humankind Index is a lever to get us out of this treacly box that for too many is messy and sticky.

So the Humankind Index is about challenging the received economic wisdom, but it is not about ignoring issues such as employment and economics. It is about re-valuing them according to the way they impact people's lives. It is about remembering that the economy should serve the people, not the other way around. It is about prioritising those factors that make our communities strong and healthy, resilient and sustainable, as opposed to just counting our pennies and our pounds.

The recent debate amongst MSPs along with the growing support from civil society and the increasing media attention on the Humankind Index seems to suggest that Oxfam has touched a nerve, even in a small way. This might just reflect the need for a different story, a story of social justice and equality, in which poverty reduction is not just about creating wealth, but also considering distribution of real wealth. Doing so will create the strong communities that we need more than ever, but which 'treacle down economics' is incapable of providing. The communities we need are those that are independent, perhaps even sustained by their own localised economies that provide for people so that they do not have to kow-tow to remote economic forces, nor conform to messages of materialism.

Blog post written by Katherine Trebeck

Senior Researcher

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Katherine Trebeck