Today Boris Johnson has announced a ‘New Deal’ for the UK, as his government looks to kick-start an economic recovery and get the nation back on its feet after the tragedy and destruction wrought by COVID-19.
The Prime Minister is right to opt for a big policy announcement. The UK is hungry for change: a recent poll from YouGov found that only 6% of the population want to return to the pre-lockdown economy. That’s an appetite for change that can only be satisfied by big, bold and high-impact policies – all of which were in the original New Deal that helped bring an end to the Great Depression in 1930s America.
The government’s plan, however, pales in comparison. The ‘New Deal’ is set to see £5 billion injected into infrastructure projects up and down the country to create jobs and get the economy moving. Mr Johnson wants to “build, build, build” to fuel his economic recovery, which – according to the man himself – sounds “positively Rooseveltian”.
But when you skim past the adjectives and hyperbole, it seems that this ‘New Deal’ is in fact nothing new: it is repackaged and repurposed policies that will do little to deliver the change the UK wants and needs. The increases in spending are only slightly above the spending that was already planned. During the worst economic crises in history this isn’t ambitious – it’s appalling.
Flicking through the policies that make up this ‘New Deal’, it is clear that the Prime Minister hasn’t bothered to read the Committee on Climate Change’s report last week, which set out in clear terms how this government is utterly failing to get on a pathway to net-zero by 2050. The ‘New Deal’ is allocating £100m for road building programmes throughout the country, locking in carbon emissions for decades to come at a time when we need to be drastically curtailing them.
The Prime Minister has also said that the plan will allow the UK to “build back greener”, but the environmental details are alarmingly scarce. The ones that are there – around supporting conservation efforts and tree-planting – are simply repackaged policies from previous budgets.
The Committee on Climate Change couldn’t have been clearer when they said that this economic recovery is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to build a green, fair and strong economy that’s on a pathway to net-zero. So, instead of ‘build build build’, Mr Johnson might want to ‘read, read, read’ the advice laid out to his government.
There are many “shovel ready” policies out there to “level up” the UK economy without reneging on our international and domestic climate commitments. Take UK housing, for instance. Not only are homes prohibitively expensive, but they are also shamefully energy inefficient. The UK housing stock is the oldest in northern Europe, and on average UK homes lose heat three times faster than their continental cousins. A mass retrofitting programme would create jobs up and down the country, endowing groups of draught busters with the new skills needed for a low carbon, 21st century economy.
This wouldn’t only create good jobs throughout the country, it would also improve everyone’s quality of life through lower energy bills and warmer, more comfortable homes. It would make serious in-roads in eradicating fuel poverty, which still impacts thousands of people across the UK, which is supposedly the sixth richest nation in the world. A ‘build, build, build’ approach to housing just won’t cut it – especially since 80% of the houses that will be standing by 2050 have already been built.
What we can’t do is pursue an economic stimulus that prioritises short term growth over long term prosperity. Handing out blank cheque bailouts to industries like aviation, without any conditions for curtailing emissions, will do little to build the green, fair and strong economy we need. Aviation is only used by a fraction of the British population, with just 15% of society taking 70% of all flights. Half of us don’t fly in a given year, at all.
Surely at the critical juncture we must aim high to get as many people back on their feet as possible, and support industries that are essential to life. This is what a green recovery would do: it would support the necessities of our lives, our homes, our health, our energy and the way in which we travel.
At a time of economic vulnerability and uncertainty, we need to challenge the idea that going green is a sacrifice or a luxury that we cannot afford. It isn’t, and we can.
A green recovery will improve all of our lives, whether it's through new and secure jobs, better cycling infrastructure, a properly resourced health service, thriving local communities, more abundant green spaces or warmer homes.
On closer inspection, the government’s ‘New Deal’ is just BS and bluster. The UK wants real change, not more of the same under a different name.