Grants / Projects we are funding

Creating a Social Wealth Fund in the UK: City, University of London

Grant details


Awarded on:01/08/2016


Area of interest

Systems change

This project will explore the way the UK could harness its public sector wealth for public benefit by creating a Social Wealth Fund. The research will challenge the orthodoxy that ‘paying down the public debt’ through privatisation is in fact sound economics and charts a third way between privatisation and nationalisation.

What is the issue?

In Britain and across most OECD countries, and particularly since the financial crisis, most governments have the economic aim of shrinking the size of the state, reducing the size of the public sector debt, and selling off or privatising state assets. The result has been a reduction in the capacity of the government to deal with pressing problems of social deprivation and inter-generational and regional inequality. This approach has also contributed to making the distribution of wealth more unequal, as state assets (owned collectively) are transferred to the better off private individuals who benefit from any gain in their value in the future. The creation of a social wealth fund could help provide greater resources both for investment in public goods such as housing and infrastructure, and provide additional funding for underfunded social needs such as social care and mental health services. In the long run, the build-up of such state assets could exert a significant influence on the behaviour of markets, as the Norwegian State Pension Fund has been able to do.

What will the project try to achieve?

The aim of the project is to examine the case for a British social wealth fund, to understand how it would be administered, what its aims would be, and what assets it would be able to draw upon. The research would include an audit of the total public sector assets available, likely to be in excess of £1 trillion; the most effective way to deploy them for the public good; and how such a fund should be managed. It would draw on existing academic and policy research, and also carry out several case studies of effective schemes in other countries. The project would engage in full and robust discussion with City experts, policy makers and politicians about the feasibility of the project, and would seek to disseminate its suggestions through media coverage, high level conferences, and lobbying activities.

Who might be interested in this project?

This project will be of interest to policy-makers, politicians, think tanks and activists who are interested in considering radical alternatives to austerity as a way of restoring prosperity and redistributing wealth to those parts of Britain that have been left behind by globalisation. In a post-Brexit climate, where the debate about the future of the UK economy and the role of government has fundamentally changed, the question of redistribution of wealth through the creation of a public social wealth fund should be firmly on the policy and political agenda. The project will also be of interest to the leaders of financial institutions who are interested in finding ways of harnessing the financial system to social ends. And it will be of interest to academics and journalists around the world as an alternative to the policies of austerity and privatisation that have dominated much of the debate in Europe and the USA.

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