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Economic Justice

Citizens’ Economic Councils ‘can help rebuild trust in politics’

Can involving the public in economic policy-making help the UK tackle the cost-of-living crisis?

An innovative new project sought to answer that question by offering a group of UK citizens the opportunity to create their own fiscal policy recommendations addressing the challenges of soaring living costs.

The Citizens’ Economic Council on the Cost of Living saw 39 members of the public come together for a series of workshops over a three-week period, drawing on insight from leading economic experts to support their discussion. They worked through various policy scenarios on spending, taxation and public investment and developed principles that they felt were important for government to factor in to decision-making.

The Council’s final recommendations included:

· Crisis-response spending packages should focus on outcomes for the most vulnerable first;

· Windfall taxes are an appropriate response to windfall profits, but investment and small businesses should be protected;

· Taxation should be made fairer by rewarding work and focusing the burden more on unearned income and wealth;

· Targets for national debt/deficit reduction should not stifle state investment strategy.

The study, designed to test the potential of deliberative democracy in UK economic policy, was led by King’s College London and Ipsos.

Dr Christopher Holmes, project director, said: “Economic policy decisions taken now will affect every UK citizen for years to come. That’s why it’s important to find new ways for citizens to be properly represented in the debate.

“In our current era of populism and political polarisation, it’s urgent that we try to rebuild trust in the policy-making process. The Citizens’ Economic Council showed how we might actually do this at a national level.”

Reema Patel, project manager, said: “The democratisation of economic policy is crucial if people are to feel part of the important decisions economists make. Deliberating about issues such as the cost of living, tax, spend and investment is central to creating a more inclusive and participatory future for economics.”

Deliberative democracy seeks to strengthen democracy by embedding ordinary citizens in decision-making processes, and the research team hopes that experiments such as the Citizens’ Economic Council will become a permanent feature of the political landscape in the UK. Experiments in other countries including Ireland and France have shown that such approaches can increase trust in democracy among citizens and foster greater openness to the views of others. The project has received funding from the Friends Provident Foundation and Barrow Cadbury Trust and is overseen by an advisory board which includes Sir Robert Chote, chair of the UK Statistics Authority; Lindsay Judge, research director at the Resolution Foundation; and Geoff Tily, senior economist at the Trades Union Congress. Find out more about the project.