Policies for Inclusive Economic Growth: Social Inclusivity and Gender Equality Should Be at the Heart of Economic Decision-Making

By Walby, Sylvia | Soundings, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Policies for Inclusive Economic Growth: Social Inclusivity and Gender Equality Should Be at the Heart of Economic Decision-Making


Walby, Sylvia, Soundings


The case for inclusive economic growth set out in this article is underpinned by the two main arguments outlined in its companion piece, published in Soundings 68. (1) These are, firstly, that the best policies for economic growth are inclusive: there is no trade-off between pro-growth and pro-equality policies; and, secondly, that reducing gender inequalities is itself an important means of increasing economic growth: gender is at the centre of processes of production, as well as (re)distribution.

The existing policies for economic growth do not produce growth. They have led to financial meltdown, long economic recession followed by low growth, low productivity, and cuts in public services--which in turn lead to increased social exclusion, civil and political discord, constitutional crisis and rising rates of violence. (2) These policies are promoted as if they were good for economic growth; but they do not produce economic growth; instead, they produce inequality, destitution, and division.

As I and others have argued elsewhere, not only is it possible to increase growth and reduce inequality, but reducing inequality would also itself promote economic growth. (3) This approach aligns the goals of sustainable growth and social justice, and contributes to the rethinking of which activities make value and which merely take value. (4) In doing so it draws on new thinking about the Commons, the social investment state and gender equality (5) It also places a high value on the dignity of labour and on equality. This is a high value-added route, which would replace the current, failing, policy of attempting to use cheap labour as the route to economic growth. It depends upon the creation of a knowledge economy.

Gender inequalities in production (as well as in the rest of society) limit economic growth. And the fuller utilisation of women's labour--by investment in human capital, reducing discrimination in labour markets, and re-orienting industrial policy--is the best way of securing a future of combined economic growth and social justice. The completion of the transformation of the gender regime that is currently underway --from domestic regime to public gender regime--could be the potential engine of the next phase of economic growth (though it is crucial to note here that a public gender regime may take both neoliberal and social-democratic forms). This is why it is insufficient to treat gender inequalities as matters to be addressed solely by redistribution and welfare provision. Given that gender relations are entwined in the structuring of production, it is crucially important to reduce and end gender gaps in employment, from participation to pay. And this requires more than better childcare, though this is significant. Achieving such a re-gendering of production also requires gender-balance in decision-making and the deepening of democracy.

In this article, the policies to achieve this combined outcome of more growth and less inequality are identified, as a contribution to the Soundings Futures series, which seeks to build alternatives to neoliberalism. (6) These proposals build on the work of many others, ranging from grassroots activists to think tanks, trade unions and academics, as well as the UK Women's Budget Group.

Gender matters throughout the economy (7) And gender issues are not confined to norms or to care. They concern more than the family and the fiscal. The establishment of a social-democratic public gender regime requires policy development that mainstreams gender equality into all aspects of social and economic policy-making, rather than treating women as a separate group or identity in need of special treatment. (8)

The Women's Budget Group's Plan F is a succinct (two-page) feminist strategy for the economy (9) It calls for: the reversal of cuts to public expenditure and social security; the reform of plans for Universal Credit; investment in social infrastructure; improvement in the terms and conditions for paid workers in the social infrastructure; the strengthening of workers' rights throughout the economy; affordable care; support for unpaid carers; a fairer social security system; and increased investment in social housing. …

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