Social security and megatrends – transparency and open discussion

atacama17:40 Thursday 13th November 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

JOZEF HALL: A report by one of our region’s best known universities is warning we’ll need to drastically change the way we manage natural disasters over the next hundred years or we could end up in trouble. Dr Aled Jones from Anglia Ruskin University has written a dramatic report for the ISSA. I spoke to him earlier.
ALED JONES: The ISSA is the International Social Security Association. So it’s the collection of all the social security departments at governments around the world. They work together to look at trends, and how they manage social security, whether it’s health or employment benefits or all the things that come within that area.
JOZEF HALL: What have they asked you to look at, and what have you written?
ALED JONES: So we’ve written a chapter for their new Megatrend report, looking at natural resource trends and climate change. So in effect natural disasters and availability of energy and food, and what that could potentially mean for societies, wherever they are around the world.
JOZEF HALL: I’m probably wrong here, but some scientific soothsaying, looking ahead, modelling, looking back on what’s happened historically, that kind of thing?
ALED JONES: What we’ve been trying to do is looking at emerging trends. So where people have been impacted by flooding, we’re looking at the impact on mental health, where people have been impacted by rising energy prices, what that potentially means for society going forward, the increased number of food banks in the UK and food price rises, what’s likely to happen over the next hundred years and shorter term. And then what does that mean for government responses.
JOZEF HALL: OK. In a nutshell, give us the good news.

ALED JONES: So the good news is that this association is thinking about it. The bad news is that the trends aren’t brilliant. So when you look at some of the projected impacts of flooding, of natural disasters, and energy prices, food prices as well as increased populations, then there is an increased strain on the public purse. So the way we manage mental health or the way we manage flooding or the way we manage people being in and out of work when areas have been hit by large scale weather disasters, or energy prices being driven up making some things uneconomic: those trends aren’t great. The good news is that at least someone is starting to think about this and trying to develop strategies. How we manage pensions where people are getting older, and potentially relying more on health services. How we manage employment and what does that mean over the next few years. So they’re staring to think about it. But it’s the start of a process and we have to move quite quickly to come up with solutions.
JOZEF HALL: So this is worst case scenario planning.
ALED JONES: It is. It’s looking at business as usual and trying to project a worst case scenario. So it’s building in resiliance. It’s looking at the risk to the system and trying to do something about it.
JOZEF HALL: Now I’ll pick you up on something you just said. “They’re” beginning to look at it. Who are “they”, and given that you”re saying “beginning to look at it” this is something presumably we should have been doing a long time ago?
ALED JONES: Some of these trends, we’ve known about them for a long time, so we should have been doing it a long time ago. “They” are governments around the world, and think-tanks and associations of governments. So is it something we should have been doing a long time ago, yes we could have been doing more planning, but they’re really difficult choices to make, and they’re really difficult when you have governments having to talk about pension ages. or the types of benefits, or the types of support you have in response to disasters.
JOZEF HALL: It’s a human reaction to deny. Denial is one of our primal instincts, isn’t it? I guess it’s hard to get governments, to get anyone to plan for the worst, because we don’t really want to address it.
ALED JONES: No, it is very difficult to plan for the worst. It’s very difficult to think about these long-term trends and do something about them today. One of the reasons they’re starting to open out that discussion now is because of the state of the current public purse. We have a big deficit, and we’re having big debt payments, so we’re thinking more about actually how do we manage public sector services, how do we manage what the government does in society versus private sector or individuals. So it’s part of that discussion, and some of those big issues are already hitting us today. So the NHS, what does that mean in terms of impacts and trends onto the NHS.
JOZEF HALL: Obesity. For example we’re hearing now from NHS experts almost on a weekly basis that obesity by 2050 is going to have brought the NHS to its knees.
ALED JONES: Yes. And unfortunately it’s not the only thing that would have brought the NHS to its knees. So we’re trying to put all those things together, so obesity is one of those trends, and as you have rising food prices globally because of the various geo-politics as well as natural disasters, then potentially rising food prices makes the food that makes you obese cheaper than the food that’s healthy. So what does that mean for society? How do we ensure these sorts of trends ..
JOZEF HALL: It’s a Catch 22.
ALED JONES: It’s a Catch 22. So if we can think about it now, and have a big open discussion, make it transparent, maybe we can have a societal solution to it.

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