More than two thirds (67%) of British people believe the UK Government considers future generations too little in decisions it makes today. It's a statistic, released today by the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development and Intergenerational Foundation, which highlights just how far behind public opinion our policy-makers are when it comes to protecting future generations.
The new research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, also found that nearly half of the people surveyed in a recent British poll (45%) think passing on a healthy planet is more important than passing on a thriving economy (9%), safety and security (16%) or even an unspoilt countryside (4%).
A total of 989 people over the age of 15 were interviewed face-to-face between 1 November and 4 November 2011. The results were weighted to reflect the wider British population.
If the polling data is representative, it seems that far from looking out only for ourselves or our own children, almost two thirds of us (64%) think all future generations' needs should take priority when we think about sharing the Earth's resources.
As Angus Hanton, Co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation puts it: "This gives a mandate for doing more for future generations. It is clear from our research that the public is way ahead of government in caring about future generations."
Ewan Jones, who is a member of the Alliance for Future Generations (a grouping of organisations and individuals whose work the research is designed to contribute to), adds: "This research reveals that, when issues are framed in terms of future generations, people take a more responsible, global and longer-term perspective. It demonstrates that people are more than willing to step back from their day-to-day concerns to take the longer view."
In a September 2010 speech, Nick Clegg declared that one of the guiding purposes of the Coalition Government's policy approach (along with decentralisation and the Big Society) would be a 'horizon shift': governance for the long-term; and therefore an end to political short-termism.
The new Ipsos MORI research shows that the British public think the UK Government is failing. More than that, we might not buy into the idea that the top priorities when it comes to future generations are to reduce debt or enhance social mobility.
Something as radically different from business as usual as long-termism in politics needs to be sealed by much more than rhetoric. It calls for a proper institutional underpinning; for a clear policy framework against so that we can all hold our government to account against their 'horizon shift' commitment.
There are lots of ideas out there. The Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development has just launched a Ministry for Future Generations website as an invitation to further discussion. Hungary has a Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations. At least nineteen national constitutions around the world refer to future generations. The Finnish parliament has a cross-party Committee for the Future. And the Welsh government appointed a Commissioner for Sustainable Futures earlier this year.
The UK needs to start looking seriously at these models and thinking about how to match a rhetorical commitment to end short-termism to serious institutional foundations and clear policy commitments. And the new Ipsos MORI research suggests that the British public would back such an endeavour.