The First Minister will speak on this topic at Scotland’s Inclusive Growth Conference in Glasgow. She has already made quite a clear association between equality and productivity in saying:
‘That is why we are focusing on fair work, encouraging employers to boost productivity by investing in their workplace and paying the living wage.’
We already know, from the work of Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson in their research for the 2009 book ‘The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better’ of the strong correlations, in ‘rich’ societies, between levels of equality/inequality and several indicators of good health in those societies. In brief, they show that unequal societies have lower educational outcomes, higher drug use and homicide rates, lower trust and higher rates of mental health problems. The authors do not suggest that more equal societies are more productive but it seems logical that unhealthy, violent, drug-abusing societies will be less productive, by virtue of having a relatively smaller population of able workers and relatively lower levels of resource to invest in it. I’ll come back to this below but first here is a selection of the graphs from the book highlighting the strength of the correlations between inequality and negative social outcomes:
So, what about productivity. Well fortunately other researchers have looked into this. See this from the OECD:
‘OECD research has found that high levels of inequality may impact growth negatively by causing a lack of investment in human capital among low income families. This could also affect productivity growth in our economies.’
What this suggests is the need for investment in education but, more than that, investment in a wide range of initiatives designed to reduce inequality including a living wage for all workers and efficient and affordable transport to both enable low income workers to travel to work and to enable families to engage in the wider culture of the society thus providing their children with the cultural capital they need to succeed in the largely middle-class environments they will meet in university and in many workplaces. It also suggests the need for a benefits system which offers dignity, the same aforementioned opportunities a living wage offers and a free and effective health service that low income families can access in order to maintain the health requirements for employment. Despite the constraints of limited devolution of power, the Scottish Government is working toward these conditions in a way not apparent in the actions of Westminster.