THE BLOG

Why Inequality Matters

07/09/2012 13:20 | Updated 07 November 2012

The gap between rich and poor is at its highest level for 30 years, yet this August's Ipsos MORI issues index, which canvassed public opinion on the issues that matter, showed only 10% of people in the UK are concerned about it.

Most of us can see in our daily lives how our world is beset with social problems. We're stressed, mistrustful, our communities have eroded, crime is a constant problem, and the lives of growing numbers are dominated by despair and depression. Despite all this, it has been those at the harsher end of the social scale who've been blamed - to read some commentators you'd believe all our social problems would be solved if the poor just got their act together and stopped being so feckless and lazy.

This equation of social suffering with personal failings is particularly cruel when viewed in the light of how our economic system actually works - whereby some people can take billions through little more than speculation whilst others are expected to work for free or in multiple jobs just to earn a living wage.

However, this isn't just a moral argument. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrated the importance of inequality to our ailing societies through hard data analysis in "The Spirit Level". The book presents 25 years of meticulous research to show how nearly all social ills - stress, poor educational performance, child wellbeing, violence, unwanted teenage pregnancies - are more common in those societies with a big gap between rich and poor.

What's more, as Nobel prize winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have shown, inequality also damages our economy. As wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small minority, the earnings of the majority fall, reducing demand in the economy. Is it any wonder that the two major financial crises - in 1929 and 2008 - both coincided with record levels of inequality?

Yet still the incomes of the top earners have risen faster than everyone else - in the US the richest fifth of the population controls about 85% of the country's wealth. In the UK the richest 1% have seen their share of income rocket from 7.1% in 1970 to 14.3% in 2005, whilst incomes of the poorest have stood still. In fact, the OECD states that the income gap is growing faster in the UK than in any other rich country. The ignorance about how unequal our societies have become - and the effects of this - is shocking. Whilst the proponents of inequality continue to blame the victims of our sick societies, something needs to be done to show it is not necessary or desirable - and there's no better time than now.

This is why CLaSS have launched a new publication "Why Inequality Matters", http://www.classonline.org.uk/pubs/item/why-inequality-matters and why I am currently making a documentary film adapting the book. Wilkinson and Pickett's research has profound implications for how we improve our societies, our aim is to take the message out to the wider public, and to raise awareness of how inequality is at the root of many of the problems we currently face.

I believe that together we can raise public understanding of the ways inequality damages us all, which will enable us to build policies that improve wellbeing and social cohesion, as well as stabilizing our economy. As The Spirit Level's co-author Richard Wilkinson says, "We need to be communicating as simply as possible an empirically based picture of a better world we should be moving towards - a world capable of inspiring people. The social environment, the quality of social relations, the strength of community, how much we trust each other - all are improved by greater equality". It's hard to argue with that.

To find out more about how you an support the film, please visit www.thespiritleveldocumentary.com