Care, community and contribution in the viable economy

What will communities look like in a viable economy, how will we care for one another?  We have a range of thoughts and feelings and are curious to know whether they resonate with yours.  We are scared about how the cuts in health and social care are impacting on our communities, especially family, friends, neighbours and others who need care and/or who are isolated.  Yet our own and others experience as users and providers of paid and unpaid care suggests that transformation is urgently needed.  We are aware of many brilliant examples of strong, caring communities which value their members which we can learn from.
We read and liked the New Economic Foundation’s (nef)  report ‘Towards a New Social Settlement’, the goals, proposals and process resonate with our own,   and it has given us food for thought. It inspired us to write this in the hope of developing a conversation with others who want more clarity on thinking these issues through within Greater Manchester.
‘ Towards a New Social Settlement’  is‘ a framework for deciding how we want to live together, our expectations from Government and what we want to achieve for self and others.’ They consider that needs have changed since the postwar settlement and the goals should now be greater equality or social justice, promoting environmental sustainability and more equal distribution of power.  They stress these need to be addressed together and throughout the whole system.  They advocate more discussion – about planning for prosperity without economic growth, moving investment upstream to prevent harm, nurturing human resources in order to value and strengthen ‘unpaid work, everyday wisdom and social connections’ and fostering solidarity in order to achieve these goals. They identify four areas for action to move towards the new settlement; rebalancing work and time, releasing human resources by valuing unpaid assets and activities and promoting co-production, strengthening social security and planning a sustainable future.
And like all good writing it begs some questions we would like to explore further.
The ideas of fostering solidarity and co-production feel exactly right.  We would like to get a more robust understanding of the potential for promoting these ideas especially in inner city areas.  However, we do think that “core economy” is a misleading term to talk about something which is specifically outside the economy.
Transformation is and has always been taking place. For example, the introduction of personal budgets for health and social care, which were successfully campaigned for by the disabled people movement based on a civil rights model imported from the US.  What has emerged has raised some important questions for a movement like ours:  how do you ensure sensitive, respectful, user-controlled care and support, with adequate funding, while pooling risk (a key NHS principle), and enhancing democratic, collective voice and influence in the overall direction of the system? It has led to more community-based, respectful and flexible care for some and erosion of entitlements and worker conditions (including vital things like training, supervision, team building…) on the other. We are encouraged by approaches and services that focus on what people can contribute and which support their ability to contribute rather than concentrating on everything that is wrong with them (the asset-based model in place of the deficit model).
We wonder if there is enough talk about nurturing our need as people to contribute. Can the needs of well meaning professionals, volunteers, families and friends to contribute inadvertently diminish the potential contribution of people who rely on formal support and their need to contribute?
One of us was struck by this recently.  Her 90 year old father got a homeshare (someone who shares his home, the ‘homesharer’ provides several hours support each week in lieu of rent).  The daughter thought going through an agency was a good idea; they might be able to look after the interests of two potentially vulnerable people should anything go wrong.  The father did not want this, he did not want to be a client.  He wanted to be an active agent providing someone with a home – to make a contribution!  He feared the agency would diminish this sense that he could contribute.
Is being aware of this need of individuals and communities to contribute an important underpinning, if co-production is to become a norm?
To what extent do ‘strong communities’ rely on a few key individuals? What enables these individuals to be active? Who will be around to contribute with the radical changes in access to social security and pensions? Can we assume that strategies such as a shorter working week will generate more community involvement?  What policy initiatives will be required in order to grow and nurture the ethos and practices of mutuality and solidarity?
The option of a citizen’s income is attractive. The nef report argues that there is no ‘silver bullet’ ; an adequate citizens income is unaffordable  and it is too individualistic a solution to social security.  Is this something we have to accept?  There have been alternative simulations both in the UK and elsewhere that suggest otherwise .
We would like to generate examples of where interconnected and systemic policies have had the type of impact necessary to sustain and build communities which successfully care for their populations. So we are on the lookout for these locally and internationally – if you can point us in the right direction for any, please do.
The nef report is right in arguing that we need to move investment upstream to prevent harm.  Haven’t public health and other services been trying to do this for years? In some ways they have been successful but so have consumption patterns, drug companies and clinical services at ensuring we need more and more treatment services!  Again we need more examples of where interconnected and systemic policies have had the type of impact needed. Please let us know of local and international success stories if you can.
All in all we feel the vision is right and we want to look more at how the capacity to realise it can be maintained and developed. Please let us know if you would like to do this with us, either by emailing us or by leaving a comment on this post.

Malmö: re-imagining the city

The Steady State Manchester team:

In this post on his personal site, SSM’s Mark Burton reflects on a visit to Malmö in Sweden, a city that has been compared to Manchester. What are the key characteristics of its green policies and how far do they really go? What innovations are there that we might learn from here in Manchester and the region?

Originally posted on Uncommontater:

Our cities have grown up as the result of a number of factors. Manchester, with its origins in the Roman period, was a relatively small centre until particular geographical, historical, social and economic factors coincided to make it the world’s first industrial city. It then declined, until, facilitated by its business friendly Labour administration, it found a new role as a post-industrial centre. That renewal, according to the official story, is founded on science and technology, science, finance, tourism and sport, emphasising external direct investment, skills and competitiveness. In reality, a construction boom, together with the resilience of some economic sectors, has been at least as important.

Comparisons have been made with other cities with similar history. I have been lucky enough to visit several of these (including Hamburg, Barcelona, Newcastle, Sheffield and Glasgow) and have just been to Malmö, Sweden’s third city (by train). It is a…

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From loyalty points to community currency: releasing value for the local economy

The development of community loyalty points, which aim to give a leg-up to people living on the poverty line, is picking up momentum with two proof-of-concept projects slated to go live later this summer in Wigan and Hull.

The aim is for the points to become the world’s first digital community currency specifically aimed at alleviating economic hardship and promoting social value.

A Bitcoin-style ‘crypto-currency’, will allow people to earn digital credits in return for voluntary work or contributions to their local community. The tokens would then be redeemable against goods and services provided by participating companies and organisations. and its social sector partners are expecting that councils will opt to support the idea so that people will be able to use points in part payment of core expenses like council tax, rent and business rates.

The idea for the digital currency came about as a result of adult social care and social prescribing work carried out in the Scholes area of Wigan, and anti-poverty work carried out by Hull City Council welfare rights and financial inclusion teams.

Community or complementary currencies are nothing new. They have been used throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to fill the void when national currencies or welfare systems fail. In recent years, initiatives such as the Brixton and Bristol Pound have achieved some success retaining spending power within their own communities.

Money is generally loaned into existence as debt. In these new schemes, community loyalty points will be earned into existence against the completion of defined socio-economic outcomes.

The objective is to stimulate grass roots activity that is measurable and which serves the public interest thus giving funders an opportunity to commission specific outcomes that the community get paid to deliver.

It also gives business an opportunity to support such activity in a way that produces measurable social impact.

In Wigan, the rewards scheme will begin with paper-based tokens that can be redeemed in a local shop for products supplied by commercial wholesalers that are looking to reward more sustainable lifestyles. It will soon progress into a digital rewards scheme where individual users will carry their own password-protected wallets on smart phones or other devices so that transactions will automatically update their points balance.

For the scheme to take off, residents must be able to use the points to buy things they actually want. Wigan is consulting its community on the 25th June.

Councils could agree to back the currency, for instance by accepting payments of points against written-off council tax, rent and business rate arrears.

Business could play a part, redeeming the currency for low-risk, low-value commodities, such as off-peak services or unsold tickets for one-off events.

This helps them unlock stored value in expensive and under-utilised assets like football clubs, cinemas and theatres. The community loyalty points can help these businesses develop pricing that rewards social outcomes and increases the use of their facilities.

It also helps them to capitalise on the personal and community connections that are difficult for online companies to establish.

Harnessing markets to deliver social outcomes is all a part of the new economy. Advances in technology can now unlock the stored value in underused resources and match it with unmet needs.

Potentially it’s a win for business, a win for community and a win for individuals.

Mike Riddell


Further reading:

Lietaer, B. A., Arnsperger, C., Goerner, S., & Brunnhuber, S. (2012). Money and sustainability: the missing link: a report from the Club of Rome-EU Chapter to Finance Watch and the World Business Academy (First edition). Axminster, Devon, United Kingdom: Triarchy Press.
Ruzzene, M. (n.d.). Beyond growth: problematic relationships between the Financial   crisis,are and public economies, and alternative currencies. International Journal of Community Currency Research, 19 (Section D), 81–93.

The Open Veins of Greater Manchester

Open veins of Greater Manchester: based on "Manchester City Region" by Jza84 - self-made (but based on this map).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Open veins of Greater Manchester: based on “Manchester City Region” by Jza84 – self-made (but based on this map).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

In Greater Manchester and the North (which we now have to call the Northern Powerhouse) new investment is coming. New transport minister, Patrick McLoughlin, has confirmed that HS2 (the Y shaped high speed railway with its foot in London and its tops in Manchester and Leeds) will be built (price tag at least £50Bn). The M62 trans-Pennine motorway will be “upgraded”, and links to Manchester International Airport will be made quicker. And the antiquated rail links Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Hull will be improved. This goes with a huge further investment in the airport; at £1Bn, that’s fifty times the money being spend on cycling infrastructure in the region, and equivalent to two thirds of the entire Greater Manchester Transport Development Fund.

“Open Veins” was a metaphor used by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano to capture the plunder of his continent by the empires of Europe and North America1. Among many memorable pearls was the observation that South America’s transport infrastructure (as today we must call roads and railways) pretty all much ran from centres of production to the ports, thereby facilitating the haemorrhage of wealth. Could something similar happen here?

We’ve commented before on the flawed policy of airport expansion, locking the city into aviation dependency and scuppering our efforts to stem greenhouse gas emissions. Here we question the direction being taken for infrastructure investment in the region. We’ve also suggested that the huge sums involved could be better spent. Deciding in advance that transport infrastructure is the answer to our regional economy’s problems tends to lock analysis into a path-dependent trajectory that ends with … big transport infrastructure projects.

What we do know is that investing in high speed rail and airports is not the solution to a broken, unbalanced economy. Professor John Tomaney’s evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Transport concluded that

… it is very difficult to substantiate the argument that high speed rail is likely to have a positive impact on regional inequalities. Cities which are the location of HSR stations may gain some benefits, but distribution of net benefits needs careful analysis. Some of the benefits accruing to regional cities may be at the expense of neighbouring places, while in countries with dominant capital cities net benefits tend to accrue to these.

Looking at the UK situation in more detail, the report examines those arguments which suggest that other kinds of transport investment may make a bigger contribution to the objective of regional rebalancing than HS2, particularly those which improve inter-city connections between cities and regions outside London and the South East.”

Open veins indeed. That argument, however, seems to support the case for the improved links between Northern cities, known as HS3. Here we need to distinguish between the need for better links than the current slow and overcrowded, diesel, multiple unit “bog car” (as train enthusiasts used to call them) links we have at the moment, and the trophy project of High Speed rail. There is a theory behind the move to high speed connections and motorway “improvements” across the north: “agglomeration economics”. We explained this before:

The theory of agglomeration; attracting skilled workers, the ‘creative class’ and creating the conditions for investment through focusing on infrastructure and promotion of the city as an attractive location, is the expression in regional economic development of failed neoliberal economics. It minimises public intervention in the operations of the market and economy and suggests that only supply side interventions are permissible.”

As Professor Karel Williams of Manchester Business School notes, however,

The academic evidence on city size and growth rates is ambiguous because there are many complexities; agglomeration itself is a mysterious and alchemical process between underspecified variables……

It would be sensible to turn away from seminar room conjecture to the specifics about London’s economic success and the north’s supposed failure. This contrast is certainly demonstrated if we look at standard measures such as relative output (or GVA), which show London drawing away. But much of that widening gap is caused by specific factors which operate in London and cannot easily be replicated in the north.”

Those specific factors lie in the special case of London’s financial sector in that de-regulated and globalised neoliberal concrete dsytopia called “financialisation”.

But, what might an alternative programme for investment look like? We set out the principles for this once before. But broadly we would want to prioritise investments that:

  1. Reduce rather than increase ecological damage, including via greenhouse gas emissions.

  2. Make the region relatively more economically self-sufficient and resilient (which doesn’t mean “glorious isolation”, but a rebalancing).

  3. Provide quick benefit in terms of sustainable livelihoods and quality of life – public sector affordable housing and energy demand reduction (e.g. via greatly enhanced insulation) are known to meet these criteria. Food production is also a priority in terms of resilience to global shocks to our dependency on long, global supply chains in an uncertain and warming world.

  4. Enhance public health (hence the need to learn from other cities on what serious sustainable city transport involves).

  5. Prioritise the social infrastructure more than the hard physical infrastructure.

  6. Restore and protect our soils and water – for example via ambitious upland conversation schemes, redesign of our sewage (a fine resource!) and water management systems, and sustainable woodland management.

Realistically, given the election result, there seems little chance of a turn-around in the failed neoliberal-agglomeration-trophy investment strategy in the short term, but city-regional devolution, despite the undemocratic nature of the DevoManc model, does potentially offer some spaces for articulating and promoting sane alternatives, shifting the balance of investment and pioneering alternative approaches.

Mark H Burton


1 Galeano, E. (1998). Open Veins of Latin America:  five centuries of the pillage of a continent. London: Latin American Bureau.

Alternative financial innovations in Greater Manchester?

We are interested in exploring the possibilities for alternative financial systems to promote economic, social and ecological well-being in this part of the world.
The key idea is to identify the gaps in the local system of financial resources (systems, institutions, mechanisms….) that, if filled, could help improve local economic, social and environmental well-being and resilience.
That suggests three key questions:-

1) How can we keep money local, “plugging the leaks” by which it gets spent out of the local or regional economy.  There is current interest in initiatives like parallel or local currencies, exchanges, and loyalty schemes (e.g. Brixton and Bristol Pounds, Hullcoin, Spice, and locally Chorlton TAG, Fallowfield Timebank) and also some successful international examples such as the Swiss inter-business WIR, and the Banco Palmas social currency in Brazil).  But there might be other ways of achieving this goal – how do we increase commitment and understanding about spending locally, “local multipliers”, etc?

2) How might we link savings, affordable credit and investment in the local economy?  Can the respective agendas coalesce toward something like a local bank or local savings and investment bond, backing savings with investment in things like renewable energy or sustainable food initiatives while en enabling those initiatives to more easily raise capital.  Is anyone doing anything on this front here already?  What might the most effective, and efficient (of time and set-up investment) be?

3) Similarly, can the problem of household indebtedness and reliance on short-term high interest loans (e.g. payday loans) be linked up with these other agendas, for example in partnership with credit unions?

If it looks like there is consensus over feasible intervention or interventions, the next task would be to look at how to take the first steps, and to enrol other relevant people.

At this stage we are looking for two things.

1) Expressions of interest in committing to an initial meeting to explore these ideas. If you contact us, we will get back to you if we have sufficient interest with date and time options.
2) Suggestions of others who might be interested in participating, or whose ideas, knowledge, skills and/or contacts might be helpful.

You can contact us with the form below, or send us an email.  (You can find more background on pages 31-36 of our 2012 report In Place of Growth.)

Responses to the Ecomodernist Manifesto

The Steady State Manchester team:

A brief note from SSM’s Mark Burton on critical responses to the “Ecomodernist Manifesto” that appeared recently.


Originally posted on Uncommontater:

Responses to the Ecomodernist Manifesto

I recently came upon An Ecomodernist Manifesto, and was staggered by the scale of its unwarranted assumptions and errors. It argues that the malign human impacts on the earth can be turned benign through the application of technology and further economic growth. Yet its authors claim to be environmentalists (or rather post-environmentalists.

I thought of writing a rebuttal, as I did of the New Climate Economy’s problematic (if less so) report. But there was so much wrong with it, from denial of the linkage between GDP growth and emissions (or rahter faith in yet to be demonstrated decoupling), via advocacy of nuclear power and unproven Carbon Capture and Storage, to a denigration of indigenous, pre-modern ways of life, that it was hard to know where to start.

Luckily four diverse, but complementary critiques haven appeared. Two from the degrowth / ecological economics perspective, one…

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The Viable Economy serialised – The Conclusion

Finally we continue the serialisation of our intervention, The Viable Economy, wrapping up with the short conclusion and a brief list of further reading (see also the links in the ribbon above)You can read the whole pamphlet here.

Next, we plan to focus more concretely on sectors of the regional economy, and on practical initiatives towards a post-growth Greater Manchester.  Have you enjoyed the Viable Economy?  DO you have thoughts to share?  Do let us know, either by commenting on this post, or by email, twitter etc.

If you like our work, why not make a donation towards it?  Our costs are modest, but we are unfunded.  Thanks!

14) Conclusion

The Viable Economy, based on the values of stewardship, justice, conviviality, solidarity, co-operation, equality and respect, seeks to redress the parlous state we are in, ecologically, socially and economically. Its proposals, even if they need further development, show us how we can set out on a path to a resilient, more localised, stable economy that delivers what we all need: a frugal abundance or true prosperity, where people live in an increasingly equitable and harmonious society, locally and globally, deciding on rather than following economic rules, and not merely treading lightly on the earth, but protecting and restoring those systems that make life possible.

fig3 conclusion

15) Appendix: Further reading

There is a large literature relevant to The Viable Economy, much of which we reference in the footnotes to the text. This is a short selection of works we have found particularly helpful.

Blewitt, J., & Cunningham, R. (Eds.). (2014). “The Post-Growth Project: How the End of Economic Growth Could Bring a Fairer and Happier Society.” London: London Publishing Partnership. All chapters available at

Davey, B. (Ed.). (2012). Sharing for Survival. Dublin: FEASTA.

Lewis, M., & Conaty, P. (2012). The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy. New Society Publishers.

Smith, P. B., & Max-Neef, M. A. (2011). Economics unmasked: from power and greed to compassion and the common good. Totnes, Devon, UK: Green Books.

Victor, P. A., & Jackson, T. (2013). Green Economy at Community Scale. Toronto: The Metcalf Foundation.

We also encourage you to read our previous reports:

Steady State Manchester. (2012). In Place of Growth: Practical steps to a Manchester where people thrive without harming the planet. Manchester: Steady State Manchester.

Steady State Manchester. (2012).Living Well: Practical Solidarity and Steady State Economics. Manchester: Steady State Manchester.

Steady State Manchester. (2014). In Place of Pay Inequality . Manchester: Steady State Manchester.

And also the regular blog posts on our website