June 13, 2024

New Programme: How do we finance the future?

by Joanna McGilvray, Carnegie UK

“That all sounds great – but how do we pay for it?”. This is a question we hear a lot in the world of public policy. It’s a difficult question to answer, and one that can provoke territorialism, jealousy and one-upmanship. It can feel like doing the right thing in one area always has to come at the expense of something else.  

In this scramble for scarce resources, there is pressure to make your issue sound more urgent or important than everyone else’s. Like we can either tackle homelessness or protect our planet. That we can improve public transport or protect human rights. That we can end child poverty or end pensioner poverty. That no matter the urgency, we can’t do it all.   

“How do we pay for it?” is a question that is necessary and timely. Especially given the current context of the highest UK national debt since the 1960s, and struggling public services facing growing funding gaps. And this in a world where we are closer to the dawn of the trillionaire age than we are to ending poverty.  

So yes, it’s a useful and relevant question. But it’s also one which can shut down conversations and be used as a political excuse. It can prevent us from looking for the links between things, from thinking holistically, from finding the common challenges (and solutions) and importantly, from imagining what might just be possible, and testing it out.  

And whatever you do, don’t talk about taxes – unless it is to say tax rises are always Very Bad – a line we are hearing from some of our would-be leaders following the recent election debate. Even though most projections show rises are inevitable. The time is ripe for a grown-up conversation to agree the social contract for our time.  

Carnegie UK thinks that collective wellbeing should be part of that conversation. 

To us, this concept simply means everyone having what they need to live well now and in the future. And we believe that this happens when social, economic, environmental and democratic outcomes are prioritised and are in balance. But our Life in the UK research tells us that too many people aren’t being given the tools they need to live well. It shows extremely low levels of democratic wellbeing, and striking wellbeing gaps between generations. So where to start?  

Well, we could start at the beginning, by thinking our way through the tricky questions. Which brings us back to: ‘that all sounds great – but how do we pay for it?’. This is the (very big) question we will be grappling with through our new programme, Financing the Future.  

We want to explore the innovative, impactful and equitable ways in which governments can generate revenue – through tax and beyond – to enhance and support collective wellbeing. And, crucially, we want to think about how that money can be spent and invested in a way that enhances collective wellbeing too – by allowing us to prioritise prevention, focus on long-termism and sustainability, reduce inequality and protect our planet.   

If this has caught your attention, and brings to mind a paper, a person, a thought or a challenge, we would love to hear from you. The question is huge, but so is the potential for a different future if we take time to find new answers.