Social Policy and Administration, volume 35

Social Policy and Administration, volume 35, December 2001, no.5

This special issue of Social Policy and Administration on ‘Environmental Issues and Social Welfare’ invites those of us who are interested in the reform of social security benefits and taxation to think again about the link between these concerns and the sustainability of the planet. Of particular interest is the paper by Tony Fitzpatrick entitled ‘Making Welfare for Future Generations’. Fitzpatrick summarises his own theory on intergenerational justice in which he develops a principle of ‘sustainable justice’ which recognises “the long-term mutuality of intragenerational and intergenerational equity: the former without the latter is unsustainable; the latter without the form is undesirable,” (p.508). He looks for social policies which might serve the interests of both the present and the future poor, and suggests collective ownership of pension funds.
Fitzpatrick locates the link between this discussion of sustainable justice and environmental issues in the principle that “substitutables should only be utilized if the welfare thereby created is subject to an egalitarian distribution [because] the depletion of a substitutable has implications for everyone, therefore everyone should be able to benefit from it on a scale that current property rights do not permit,” (p.513). He discusses the Alaskans’ distribution of oil revenues to every resident as a social dividend – and suggests that it has few environmental credentials.
This of course reveals the problem: that the paper is about two separate issues: environmental issues, and social justice (though social justice in an intergenerational context). As Fitzpatrick recognises when he discusses the use of a field for either a car park or a conservation park, it is the particular kind of tax regime chosen which will determine whether the environmental justice is served.
Of particular interest in this respect is Meg Huby’s article, ‘The Sustainable Use of Resources on a Global Scale’, which includes a discussion of the consumption of energy in wealthy and poor countries, and which recommends carbon taxes which, she believes, “could pay huge environmental dividends and provide revenue for improving social assistance schemes,” (p.533).
Maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of a Citizen’s Income paid for by imposing a carbon tax. Such an arrangement ( – particularly if either established or regulated on a Europe-wide basis) would serve intragenerational, intergenerational and environmental justice, whilst at the same time contributing to the efficiency of the labour market: an issue which some suggested policies take less into account.