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The infrastructure industry is key to improving social inclusion

James Beard and Kerry Scott

While growth has returned to many global economies in recent years, average incomes continue to stagnate and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. It is clear that economic development does not always deliver the increases in living standards for all sections of society that policy-makers intend or expect.

A more inclusive approach to development and growth is needed where a prosperous economy contributes to a more equal society with the benefits shared by all. The infrastructure industry is key to delivering this vision, and a number of drivers will help us move towards a more socially inclusive society:

Use regulatory frameworks to support inclusive infrastructure

The UK Equality Act 2010 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put social inclusion on both the national and global policy agendas. Public sector bodies in the UK have a duty to consider the impacts of their plans and activities on ‘protected characteristic’ groups, while five of the UN’s 17 SDGs call for developers to keep inclusion and equality in sharp focus.

Reduce inequality to boost growth

Income inequality is bad for growth. Reducing the income gap between high and low earners by raising wages at the lower end of the scale and widening access to employment opportunities across society stimulates demand for goods and services provided by the private sector. This also cuts demand for public sector services, meaning taxpayers’ money can be directed elsewhere.

Improve inclusion to manage risk

Ensuring publicly funded projects maximise benefits and minimise adverse impacts makes practical sense – people who have been consulted and feel included are more likely to support the scheme, with a resultant positive commercial and reputational impact. And growing evidence shows that when infrastructure is inclusive and accessible to a wide range of users, it is more financially sustainable.

Focus on doing the right thing

The commercial case for inclusion should be reason enough to act, but there is a moral imperative to do the right thing and close the inequality gap in society too. Organisations are increasingly aware of the impact they make on communities, and how this affects how they are perceived by customers and wider society. In the age of social media, it’s crucial that everything we do is backed up by a moral case as well as a business case.

Social inclusion has successfully found its way onto the political agenda in the last couple of years. Building a shared vision for inclusive growth is essential. It starts by aligning the priorities of policymakers and communities through engagement and discourse. Out of that can grow a clear and compelling inclusion roadmap, with performance indicators to measure success.

For more information, download our whitepaper ‘Delivering inclusive growth’.

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