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Nuala Dickson Blogs – Theories & Politics of Social Justice

Economic reform key in tackling child poverty post-pandemic

It is an injustice that global child poverty levels soared to approximately 1.2 billion during the COVID-19 outbreak (UNICEF, 2020), while the wealth of the top 1% doubled (Oxfam, 2020). The other 99% of the population have people power: our togetherness can make a difference. By dismantling the capitalist behemoth we can create an economic structure which ensures a fairer distribution of benefits and burdens (Rawls, 1971). We must first start by making better political decisions locally.

Inequality gap scandalous

Under the Tories, approximately 4.3 million British children live in poverty: “49% of them live in lone parent families”, “46% are from BAME groups” (which stands in stark contrast to 26% from white British families) and “75% live in a household where at least one parent works” (Taylor, 2021). The UK has one of the biggest inequality gaps in the developed world (The Equality Trust), giving rise to health and social problems, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak (Bambra et al 2020).  By creating interdependent systems of disadvantage through social categorisations such as race, gender and class, the Government has created structural division. Without radical reform, barriers will continue to prevent children being born equal.

Rawlsian principle of equal liberty

Behind the Rawlsian vale of ignorance (Rawls, 1971), I’d propose an Independent Scottish Republic to ameliorate child poverty. Revenue generated from abolishing the Monarchy could be reinvested in health care, education and housing to allow everyone the best start in life. The monarchy is founded on wealth and privilege which gives them power to exploit children by using capital to escape culpability for historic injustices- as seen by Prince Andrew when he settled a sexual assault case by paying his accuser nearly 12 million. There is speculation the money is coming from the public purse, even though unconfirmed. If true, evading the rule of law isn’t a just way to spend taxes and neither is it just for the children who have been sex trafficked and abused.

Rawlsian principle of difference
Alternatively, Royalists could use the principle of difference (Rawls, 1971) to argue that we need not abolish the monarchy on the basis that the Monarchy brings benefits to the least advantaged, through the modality of charity. For example, the Princes Trust supports vulnerable young people facing socio-economic exclusion. Either way, with or without the Monarchy, an Independent Scotland has the potential to achieve fairer redistribution of wealth through a progressive economy. Irrespective of how we look at it, what we do know is that more equal societies almost always do better (Pickett, 2009). A new economy should place strong focus on family and multi-culturalism (Walzer, 1983) to reflect the needs of Scotland’s diverse population.  Rawl’s view of justice is limited as race and gender don’t fit into the concept and it doesn’t operate beyond the nation state. It would not solve child poverty globally- but it would be a starting point.

Libertarianism: some children are free, others are not

Nozick (1974) opposes Rawl’s theory as he believes it violates the liberty of the rich. I argue he is fundamentally wrong. Even though some would insist that poverty is the fault of the individual for lack of hard graft, the same cannot be argued about children. They are unable to earn a living and rely on their caregivers to provide for them. We have all been children, powerless to choose or change the circumstances we are born into. If we wouldn’t choose poverty for ourselves, why do we accept it for others? Poverty is hard to escape: income inequality in adolescence is linked to well-being in adulthood (Park et al). Nozick’s rationale lacks compassion. Without adequate redistribution and state intervention as seen in current times, our children suffer while neoliberal ideologues gain.  It is a draconian situation: 1 in 4 children live in poverty (CPAG, 2022). Surely, we should all be humans of equal worth?

Freedom for children everywhere

UK child poverty rates are amidst the highest in Europe (CPAG, 2022). The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act which incorporates the UNCRC is futile if the Scottish Government lacks capacity to implement changes needed to remedy the drivers of poverty: employment law, Universal Credit and the economy.  Independence would give Scotland autonomy to challenge vehicles of oppression, both in Scotland and in a globalising world (Fraser, 2009). If the world was able to make sacrifices for the common good over lockdown, we can choose an Independent future with a more inclusive economy (Burke et al, 2019), for the benefit of children everywhere.

COVID-19 underscores reliance on women:  demand for socio-economic reform

It is an injustice that 47 million women were estimated to have been pushed into poverty during the pandemic (UN, 2021), while 740 million currently give up their paid employment and livelihoods to provide care work in the informal economy (Oxfam, 2020). The economic structure should generate fairness in the distribution of burdens and benefits but the magnitude of inequality is striking. By dismantling the capitalist behemoth we can eliminate sexual and racial oppression, to create a more just society. The gendered economic impact of COVID-19 brought the issue to the forefront (Women and Equalities Committee, 2021).

Contradiction of capitalism: women exploited

The pandemic put a strain on working mothers in the UK, as women increased the amount of time caring for their children (Prassl et al 2020). Domestic labour under patriarchal norms isn’t remunerated. I’m unsure why?– without it, we would likely see a downfall of the labour market. The dominant class may propagate a narrative that ‘class’ no longer exists (Harvey, 2017). Nevertheless, they treat domestic labour as a complimentary handout.  Marx’s conception of social class doesn’t deal with the exploitation of women outside the market setting. Gender inequality is blatantly constitutive to capitalism.

Welfare state alienates women

Research by the Women and Equalities Committee (2020) shows that women are more likely to claim state benefit. Universal Credit claims increased by 90% over the pandemic (DWP, 2020). Brown (1981) argued that many mothers depend on the welfare state as they are primarily responsible for raising children. This would fit Marx’s theory of social class as women provide labour covered by the household wages. Since the Beveridge report (1942) however, little progress has been made to address gender inequality (Chanfreau, 2022) in welfare policy (Bacci, 2016). Universal credit is designed on outdated assumptions about family life (Chanfreau, 2022). Moreover, Universal Credit isn’t routinely uprated with the rate of inflation. Even if it is uprated, it would still be 6% below pre-pandemic levels (IFS, 2022). This assault on women’s freedom is a product of the capitalist system. We are unable to equally participate in society when we are socially and economically oppressed.

Disproportionate burdens for intersectional minorities

The Women & Equalities Committee (2021) found that BAME women are employed in less secure, low quality jobs. I would therefore agree with Robinson (1983) when he challenged Marx on the spiritual alienation dividing “asymmetrical ontologies” at the heart of capitalism. Sweeney (2021) encapsulated this using the Atlantic Slave Trade, requiring the commodification of humans. Nowadays, we see capitalists expropriating cheap labour from racialised populations (Fraser, 2020). I would therefore argue that Marx’s view of social class is too narrow in that it doesn’t account for racism or global domination that is so intrinsic to capitalism.

The distributive paradigm

Even though Young (1990) said non-material aspects can’t be conceptualised in distributive terms, policy which gives recognition to women’s unpaid labour could remedy this injustice. COVID recovery plans have failed to meet women’s needs (UN, 2022). A demand for change would likely be contested by the neo-liberal minority. Nevertheless, a new economy wouldn’t have the “crisis prone dynamic” of endless compound growth: inevitable under capitalism (Harvey, 2017).

From inclusion to division: modern identity politics exploited for political gain

Trump tweeted that congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” (Newsround, 2019). It is an injustice to women and minorities that a chauvinist (Darweesh et al, 2016) who incites racial hatred is allowed to run for election, again. Right wing populist parties, who often employ ethno-centric normalisation strategies (Halikiopoulou et al, 2022), have heralded neo-fascist politics across the globe (EESC, 2018). By dismantling the capitalist behemoth we can emancipate humanity from exclusionary, cultural imperialism. We must first acknowledge how identity politics impacts discourse on a local level so we can achieve systemic change globally: “… the class struggle is inscribed in space” (Lefebvre, 1974).

Localism has permeated Britain

BREXIT was flogged on anti-immigration rhetoric (Graneng, 2017). 88% of Brexiteers thought less immigrants should be allowed into the UK. People who identified as “very strongly English” were more likely to vote leave (Goodwin et al, 2016). The move from traditional civil rights movements whereby “social groups” (Young, 1990) share claims to discrimination by wider society is now used by white supremacists to ostracise oppressed groups (Fanon, 1961). Nature and society subjugate ascriptive and social characteristics upon us (Kant, 1786). The census categorises different groups of people, even though there is debate around how social categories should be grouped. In the UN statistical division survey, 63% of countries studied, incorporate ethnic enumeration (Morning, A 2008). Identity is thus fundamental to our understanding of who we are in an ontological context. Nevertheless current societal policy is a restrictive, structural feature of capitalism, which immobilises groups of people, reinforcing dominant culture and creating “institutionalised patterns of subordination” (Fraser, 1997). 52% of the country voted BREXIT. The nation is at loggerheads.

Divide and conquer?

Are our politicians unscrupulously using identity politics to threaten political solidarity? (McGowan, 2020). They’ve set up false binary oppositions. In Scotland for example, the Alba party alongside Unionist parties use identity politics to exclude trans women. This might be deemed as a deliberate tactic to undermine the ability of the progressive left to work together. What are their motives and who benefits from this? Is this Salmond’s revenge for Sturgeon’s refusal to conceal his sexual misconduct? Is Putin flashing money at our politicians to gain control and polarise the West? Is it the patriarchy’s attempt to undermine women (De Beauvoir, 1949) by propagating a narrative of what woman should be? The Combahee River Collective (1977) makes it clear that identity politics isn’t intended to be divisive. Women and minorities in elite positions represent justificational support for capitalism, Suella Braverman for example. Neoliberal identity politics focuses purely on identity, but the oppression is also class oppression (Pritchett, 2005). At local level, we must increase our awareness of neoliberal identity politics and its motivations. Universality could be the alternative (Descartes, 1641).


Helping humanity see “commonality of their struggles” would be less divisive (McGowan, 2020). Critics argue that Universality doesn’t allow difference. This is untrue. The betrayal of Universalism in which totalitarian projects have gone awry is the primary cause of scepticism (Derrida, 1982). Alienating yourself from your identity is also radical, requiring individualism.  I argue that a balance is needed in the application of Universality and that this should be reflected in legal framework.

Equality Act’s epistemic boundaries

The UK hasn’t adjudicated for historical injustices by re-assessing the connection between imperialist ventures of the past and existing human rights issues (Zook, 2006). For example, section 14 which isn’t enacted, doesn’t allow individuals to bring cases forward on multiple grounds. It also fails to cover harassment or forms of indirect discrimination. Imperialists have used the Act as an excuse to deny trans women equal rights (Government Equalities Office, 2020). Our rights should never come at the expense of another (Fanon, 1961).  Man is naturally compassionate when uncorrupted by ulterior motives (Hume, 2004 & Rosseau, 2012). These values should be upheld in politics. Denying equality undermines the rule of law (UN). At local level, we need robust legislation that protects everyone.


Justice is conceptualised in affirmative terms. Misrecognition of identity, reflected in policy, shapes attitudes towards ostracised communities.  Representation of people from diverse socio-geographical backgrounds could avoid hermeneutical injustices (Bhambra, 2021), emancipating humanity from different forms of slavery and alienation. Women and minorities are underrepresented (Electoral Reform Society, 2020): the UK is heading backwards (statista, 2022). A transformative approach might be the solution (Fraser, N 1997). Exploration of solidarity on a meso-level may also be necessary (Wallaschek, 2020). By uniting at local level, we can stand in solidarity transnationally, to restructure the socio-economic system. Could Scottish Independence be the starting place for global emancipatory politics? 

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