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Budget 2021: we need ethics in employment and economics

UK Parliament

It is good to see that UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak plans to extend the furlough. Such schemes, including Universal Credit/Universal Basic Income (UBI), are getting us through the pandemic. I’d go further and bolder, to maintain these as government policy: their combined effects help tackle poverty, maintain an ethos of human dignity and scaffold social cohesion without trading off one group’s prosperity with another’s.

From a personalist, ethics perspective I value policy which is a courageous humanistic step forward. As we have heard from European and UK economic historians, such schemes existed since the Early Modern years so they are well-tried initiatives adapted to current situations (including global pandemic, ongoing recessions since 2008, and the ageing and the diversity of our populations).

Besides their attention to dignity and a shield against poverty, these schemes replace fragmented social programmes while reducing bureaucracy. Importantly, UBI and furlough-type policies represent the kind of ethical intervention that supports trust and psychological safety – a “net” for social protection enabling trust and a possibility for human flourishing. As a form of (social) justice, such policies are fair and inclusive – anyone could find themselves in hardship due to the combined effects of COVID, Brexit and the pandemic – hence they are deeply humanistic policies.

To rebuild a sustainable economy, employment growth policies are important as well as enabling everyone to keep growing and learning. Economic stimulus packages to keep small business running and rebuild the economy, such as widening access to funding for small businesses and the self-employed, are also good.

Although attention now turns to the Chancellor raising taxes on businesses to help repair the economy, attention should also be given to ethical aspects of preparing to restore social resilience via rebuilding and retraining. This should support human beings’ personal purpose and wishes, as much as it supports collective flourishing.

The basis for sustainable ethical growth and prosperity has to offer a choice of work opportunities that are truly appropriate and desired/welcome for each person, to allow a better, sustainable and humane future, and resilient individuals, economies and societies.

Professor Kleio Akrivou

Professor of Business Ethics and Moral Development
Published 4 March 2021
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