The Scottish Doughnut: A safe and just space for Scotland

Inequality, Poverty in the UK

How can Scotland ensure the needs of all its citizens are met while living within environmental and planetary boundaries? The Scottish Doughnut report released today depicts where Scotland is falling short on social and environmental justice, and shows where it needs to get to. Here Francis Stuart, policy and research adviser, highlights some of the
key findings.

When we think of doughnuts we tend to think of the deep-fried variety. But, in recent years, Oxfam has been talking about doughnuts in a different context.

In 2009 a group of leading environmental scientists defined a set of planetary boundaries which, if breached, could lead to dangerous and irreversible environmental tipping points. Building on this work Oxfam suggested we needed to add in a social foundation – a range of domains that ensures everyone has the resources they need to live a good life

In other words, the challenge for countries in the 21st century is to ensure that all their citizens meet a social foundation (the inner part of the doughnut) while ensuring that, collectively, we don’t breach the environmental ceiling (the outer part of the doughnut).

Oxfam Scotland has now used Scottish and UK data to try and assess Scotland’s performance against nationally relevant “social foundations” whilst also reflecting our contribution to various “environmental ceilings”.

So how does Scotland do?

The picture painted by the Scottish Doughnut is stark.

Scottish doughnut

Almost one-fifth of households in Scotland are living in relative poverty, with close to half of households unable to heat Almost one-fifth of households in Scotland are living in relative povertytheir homes adequately. Too many people are going hungry, living in overcrowded housing, experiencing poor health, anxiety and depression, with little access to social support networks. All of these societal failures are intricately linked to the long term and systemic issue of poverty – they create it, sustain it and flow from
it.

In all but one of the environmental indicators used Scotland fails to stay within safe limits. On climate change, nitrogen use and land-use change (UK), we not only fail, but fail spectacularly. While carbon emissions have been moving in the right direction we still see recommended safe limits breached by over 470%, and in land-use change and nitrogen cycles we see breaches of over 250%. The other domains selected for the environmental ceiling see air quality levels being breached in 12% of road testing sites, and over half of our fish stocks being unsustainably
harvested. 

In all but one of the environmental indicators used Scotland fails to stay within safe limits.The Scottish Doughnut outlines that our model of development is unjust and unsustainable. Rather than living within the doughnut we are living out with the doughnut in almost every way imaginable.

But none of this is inevitable. It is not set in stone that people live in poverty while the environment is damaged.

At the heart of the doughnut is inequality. Of money, wealth and power.

Tackling inequality will require a range of policy solutions. We set some of these out in the Our Economy series of papers. They include alternative measures of prosperity that go beyond GDP, development of good quality jobs, a social safety net that ensures everyone has enough to live on, strong community and democratic participation in various walks of life, and a speedy but socially just transition to a low-carbon future.

The doughnut doesn’t look at these policies in detail. Rather, it provides a visualisation of where we are and where we need to get to.

In doing so we think it starts to crystallise the social and environmental issues we face and how far we have to go. We would welcome feedback; we hope it sparks discussion and debate. We hope this contribution helps those working towards social and environmental justice build common cause and develop policy solutions that help us live within the safe and just operating space that the doughnut represents.

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Author: Francis Stuart
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.