Governments are famously short-sighted. Thinking long-term isn’t always popular and it’s an unfortunate by-product of the democratic process that once elected, most leaderships have to spend the next few years trying to get re-elected. The results have been devastating – for the economy, the environment and our global health.
Yet, in the principality of Wales, worrying about future generations isn’t just a priority for its Parliament. It’s the law. Enter Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.
Throughout her career she has shone for thinking that bit smarter, one step ahead. She was Wales’ youngest elected councillor, and has worked for the Equal Opportunities Commission, the EHRC and as advisor to two First Ministers of Wales. However, it was as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales that she best demonstrated her worldview, concentrating on early intervention, childhood adversity and offender management. This is all the difficult, forward-thinking stuff that the tabloid press mocks and derides, but that actually makes all the difference.
The Future Generations Commissioner holds the government and other Welsh organisations to account on behalf of the generations that will follow. Since 2016, Howe has been the voice of the unborn.
It’s in planning, housing and transport that Wales has seen the most immediate impact, areas where decisions made now have an effect on the immediate future wellbeing of its citizens, as well as for generations to come. However, the Manifesto for the Future sets out 48 recommendations which are a blueprint for a better world, a start on eliminating or mitigating the ills and evils that western society drags behind it like old luggage. As part of this vision, ongoing pilots of Universal Basic Income and a shorter working week have the potential to change everything.
She calls the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the “common sense Act” and, of course, it is. But that deprecation belies its potential all-encompassing impact. At time of writing, governments round the world are trying to rebuild in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic. Their very next steps have never been so important. Rarely does a world have a pause in which it can rethink or imagine better. The very existence of Howe’s role, and the energy that she brings to it, makes her next steps of vital significance for us all.
There’s no point in having these lofty ambitions for future generations if we’re not prepared to take difficult decisions.