On 23 November 2023, the Academy, in partnership with the University of Southampton, co-hosted a panel discussion examining the issue of sustainable growth. Questions submitted by the audience covered a wide range of areas related to this including generational inequalities and the wellbeing of future generations, the role of the social sciences in shaping the UK’s focus on AI and technology, and the short, medium and long-term decisions needed for affordable adult social care.
Chaired by Professor Jane Falkingham (University of Southampton), insights were provided by the panel which featured Professor Chris Armstrong (University of Southampton), Alice Brock (Sustainability & Resilience Institute, University of Southampton), Professor Jagjit Chadha (National Institute of Economic and Social Research), Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry (Southampton Council Opposition Leader) and Councillor Satvir Kaur (Leader, Southampton Council).
Addressing the first question of whether the term ‘sustainable growth’ was in fact a contradiction, the panel highlighted how traditional models of growth have historically been unsustainable and that we need to find a fairer way of spreading resources, but that there are other ways of measuring growth beyond GDP. Professor Jagjit Chadha argued that economic growth is not an inherently bad thing provided it brings about an improvement in living standards, which currently lag behind in the UK.
When asked about generational inequalities in policymaking, Alice Brock drew on her own experiences to illustrate how a lack of formal education about our political system has fed into a lack of understanding and political disengagement from younger people, and how there is growing misrepresentation of younger people’s views. She said, “I was lucky to have political people around me who explained things to me and took time to teach me about that [the political system]. But our young people don’t have that… So, I think that is a really key thing with young people, it’s not that they don’t care, and they care a massive amount about sustainability, they just don’t believe that what they do is going to make a difference.”
Professor Chris Armstrong also commented on the need for a political response to help address how we represent future generations. He said, “The people who are not yet born are vulnerable to our decisions in an asymmetric way. We could harm them, but they can’t harm us. How do we make sure that they are more present in our politics?”
On the role of the social sciences in shaping the UK’s focus on artificial intelligence and new technology moving forwards, the panel discussed how it can be harnessed for social good but also the need for regulation. As Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry pointed out, “I think AI and tech is an incredible opportunity for us to solve problems we haven’t managed to solve. But with any new technology comes new challenges – we don’t even know what those challenges are yet.” Professor Jagjit Chadha built on this and raised the issue of new technology potentially entrenching income and wealth inequalities around the globe. He said, “In the end, I think it’s a little bit like climate change. If it’s out there in the world, we’re going to need some global solutions here. Something we all sign up to, to try and think about how we can limit the risks that we can at least begin to perceive and understand.”
As the conversation drew to a close, the panel closed on their thoughts about short, medium and long-term decisions around affordable adult social care. Councillor Satvir Kaur pointed out that, in order for councils to cope with ageing populations, investment was needed in more than just social care to enable people to live independently for longer. She said, “I think other countries are a lot better at tapping into that prevention work than we are as a country. So, you look at how do you ensure that transport is more accessible for an ageing population? How do you ensure that housing is more fit for an ageing population?”
Watch the recording below to hear more from our speakers.