It’s been a busy few weeks at Holyrood.

In less than two weeks the government lost its majority after ending the Bute House Agreement, a First Minister resigned, a new one was appointed and, of course, the requisite cabinet reshuffle has taken place.  

Humza Yousaf’s successor John Swinney announced his cabinet appointments last week. While we are still waiting for cabinet secretaries’ and ministers’ specific responsibilities to be updated on the Scottish Government’s website, I couldn’t help but notice that something had disappeared. 

Only a year ago Neil Gray, now Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, was responsible for the Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy portfolio. When he took over the health and social care portfolio, Mairi McAllan took over responsibility for the Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy – now just Net Zero and Energy. New Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes’ portfolio now simply includes Economy. 

Where has the wellbeing economy gone? 

This does not mean that it won’t feature among one of the ministers’ or cabinet secretaries’ responsibilities, but it does bear asking what the implications are for how or if it will be prioritised. 

Responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Wellbeing and Sustainable Development bill, the ALLIANCE recently reaffirmed our longstanding commitment to advocating “for rethinking Scotland’s approach to the economy, through embedding complementary principles such as human rights budgeting, gender budgeting and the wellbeing economy.” 

The concept of the wellbeing economy prompts us to think beyond traditional, high-level indicators of economic growth, to instead “put people and planet first.” This means rethinking what economic success looks like, what outcomes we want to achieve, and the tools we use to measure that. 

The wellbeing economy is not the only transformative, cross-sector initiative that appears to have slid down the list of priorities in recent years. 

Natalie Don continues to have ministerial responsibility for Children, Young People and The Promise, which sits within the Education and Skills portfolio. But is that really a comfortable fit? In making The Promise, the Independent Care Review was clear that transforming how we think about care necessarily involves transformations across society. Despite strong words from successive First Ministers, there are serious concerns that progress is not happening quickly enough. 

I understand that not everything can fit neatly into these portfolio titles and someone ultimately has to have responsibility for them.  But I do worry that by not giving broadly transformational programmes like The Promise and the wellbeing economy prominence in cabinet portfolios, they will instead be subsumed within – and therefore limited by – the specific areas they have been slotted into. 

So, while the disappearance of the wellbeing economy from cabinet portfolio titles does not mean it has completely fallen off the Scottish Government’s agenda, I am concerned that it may be falling down the agenda. It can be easy in times of crisis to focus on the short term whilst dropping plans for longer term change.  But it is precisely in these times that we should be working together and creatively to shape a better Scotland. 

Which brings me to my final point. The wellbeing economy is rooted in a broader international movement, one that has been gathering pace as the recent COVID-19 and cost of living crises have highlighted the shortcomings of current economic thinking. Now is not the time to step back. We can’t lose the momentum gained for movements like the wellbeing economy which have been achieved through international cooperation and collaboration. 

The ALLIANCE Health and Social Care Academy’s Five Ambitions provide a framework for what we do need to create an equitable society that supports everyone to thrive: courageous leadership to drive bold action; shared power so that everyone has a say in shaping priorities; reimagine how we invest in transformational change and how we measure success; protect, defend and promote all our rights. 

End of page.

You may also like:

Written by: Shari McDaid PhD, Head of Policy and Public Affairs (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), The Mental Health Foundation Published: 02/07/2024

The Mental Health Foundation's, Shari McDaid PhD, tells us why challenging poverty stigma is vital for people's mental health.

Continue reading
Back to all opinions