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Charting the path to a better 2040

How UK 2040 Options will tackle the biggest challenges facing the country

By Alexandra Burns, Director of UK 2040 Options


In a world that sometimes feels like it’s in a state of permacrisis, it can be difficult to look up from the now. But in order to chart a path ahead, we must lift our heads from the immediate and look forward.

That is why we’re launching UK 2040 Options next month. We’ll be combining the need to look to the future with the reality of policy, governing and ultimately tackling the big challenges the country faces – mapping out the big choices and then testing and interrogating the ideas that surface.

The vast majority of those making policy are driven each day by wanting to make things ‘better’. Tony Blair said at his final Prime Ministers’ Questions that “whilst politics is on occasion a place of low skullduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes.”

I spent ten years working in Government with a range of politicians, on topics like health, education and online safety. And, while there has been more talk of skullduggery in recent times, I still believe that underneath it all, the aim for most – whichever party you represent, however you vote – remains those noble causes, that appetite to make things better.


Starting a healthy, constructive debate about the country’s future

But what does better mean? Who do we most want things to be better for? How do we achieve better? In my experience, the level of disagreement grows the further down that list of questions you go, and the number of options you have multiplies.

Take childcare policy, for example: an area on which everyone agrees we must do better. But there are choices to be made about the main objective. One version aims to enable or incentivise work; another way would eliminate the inequality in access to high-quality early years education. Both are ‘better’, but they can lead you to different policy answers. There are examples like this in most policy areas.

We want to look at that next level of what ‘better’ means. And over the next year, there will be no shortage of proposals, opinions and recommendations. UK 2040 Options will be different for a few reasons.


The options that will shape 2040

Firstly, we are going to stay focussed on the future. A child born today will become an adult in the early 2040s. There are some things we can predict with relative confidence about that period – the global population will be around nine billion and the number of people in the UK aged over 85 will have almost doubled compared to in 2020. What will the defining challenges be between now and then? And, crucially, what steps do we need to take now to affect them?

We want to lift our heads up from the acute challenges we are feeling right now and look across a set of defining issues: economic growth, net zero, health, education and wealth and income inequality.

We’ll also be assessing some enabling areas: technology, tax, power and place. Across all of these themes, we’ll ask: where are these areas heading as it stands? What can we change? And what can we learn by looking at them together, in the round?

Secondly, we won’t be advocating just a single point of view. We want to create a space where a range of people from established experts to emerging voices, academics to policymakers, can debate the options. We won’t represent a single worldview either – we will draw on solutions from across the political spectrum.

And thirdly, we won’t only state ideas, we will test and interrogate them. We will look at where there is consensus or divergence using Delphi-style exercises and workshops, and where there are gaps that need filling in with evidence or ideas. We’ll then work together to improve those ideas by red-teaming them, conducting pre-mortems, challenging ourselves and each other to take them to the next level.

In the coming months, we’ll host private workshops and public events. Nothing is off the table, but we will be honest about the trade-offs (there always are some) because we want a transparent debate. We’ll share our thoughts and findings with you as we go.

How to play your part

That’s our plan as it stands, but we’ll be iterating as we go – and we’ll need your ideas.

If you think you or your organisation could work with us on a particular theme, get in touch. To stay up to date on our work, follow us on Twitter and sign up to our newsletter.