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Big Issue founder submits Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 11 Aug 2021

Lord Bird, founder of the Big Issue magazine and a Crossbench peer, wants to embed long-term thinking into the workings of government.

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill is a Private Member’s Bill introduced in the House of Lords by Lord Bird, founder of the Big Issue magazine and a Crossbench peer. The Bill aims to ensure UK policy making takes into account the interests of future generations. 

It is designed to require politicians to plan beyond the point of their re-election, encouraging the government to take a longer-term perspective on major issues such as the educational system or homelessness.

The bill sets out a series of steps to achieve this including:

  • Defining the concepts of ‘sustainable development’, a ‘future generations principle’, and ‘wellbeing goals’.
  • Requiring the Government to devise, publish and report on a set of indicators on progress towards the wellbeing goals.
  • That any proposed change in public expenditure, taxation or policy should be accompanied by a ‘future generations impact assessment’.
  • Establishing a ‘future generations commissioner’ for the UK to act as a guardian of the interests of future generations.
  • Setting up a parliamentary joint committee on future generations.
  • Requiring certain companies to include in their directors’ reports a statement of the impact of their activities on the wellbeing goals.
  • Requiring public bodies to consider the wellbeing goals in their procurement exercises.

Wales has already enacted a similar bill in the form of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which created the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

A short sighted way of thinking

Lord Bird told ICAEW why he thinks a UK-wide law on the wellbeing of future generations is needed: “One of the few downsides of parliamentary democracy is short termism. Politicians have to think in five-year electoral cycles, but we need to be thinking in five-hundred-year cycles if we are going to tackle the problems ahead. Public sector borrowing, pensions, affordable housing, education, healthcare, transport – you name it: every policy area has a multigenerational impact. Too often we have gone for short term gain at the cost of long-term pain.”

Is this working in other countries? 

Bird says that democracies that think in long periods of time do exist. For example, he argues France has a superb transport system and one of the best healthcare systems in the world because it has a network of politicians of all parties and civil servants that can agree on long-term projects, sticking to them for decades. ‘This is the sort of long termism that the UK needs to emulate’, he added.

The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 20 May 2021 and passed its second reading on 25 June 2021. After second reading the Bill goes to the committee stage - where a detailed line by line examination and discussion of amendments takes place, before heading to the report stage at which further amendments are considered and then the third reading where it is put to a vote of peers.

The Bill will then be sent to the House of Commons for consideration by MPs and where further amendments may be made. Only if both the House of Commons and House of Lords vote to pass the bill at their respective third readings and can both agree on a common set of amendments will the Bill be submitted for royal assent and become an Act of Parliament.

Read more: House of Lords briefing paper on the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill

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