Monday 17 May 2010

A level playing field

Being the old cynic that I am I would treat with suspicion anyone who claimed that a book had changed their life. But a book has changed my life. Well its change the way I think about people and many of my political beliefs, so from that point of view it has changed me. The book responsible for this Road to Damascus type revelation is The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

If the data in this book is to be believed then there is an undeniable case for the need for greater equality in our society, and fast. Before I read the book I so wanted it to offer compelling evidence to justify the need for more equality in our society, and it certainly seems to do that. Whilst it is obvious that a lot of this information has been available within academic, health and political circles for a little while I think it is fair to say that it is only now starting to seep into the consciousness of society.

It would seem that contrary to, what is probably, ‘popular belief’ just raising the living standards of the poorest in our society is not enough if the upper end of the income scale continues to rise in an uncontrollable and ever extreme way. What people earn is not as important as the difference between those at the lower end of the economic scale and those at the top. The greater the income inequality the more ills a society has. In the UK where income differences can be quite extreme we have higher rates of crime, substance dependency, mental illness, obesity, teenage pregnancies, lower average life expectancy overall and lower average educational attainment. More equal societies like those in Japan and Sweden have a much lower rate of these ‘social ills’. Inequality facilitates social breakdown. The extremes difference of wealth levels in society creates anxiety. At all levels in the socio-economic scale people are anxious about their position. They will measure this using any number of criteria and react according to their perception of their position. This anxiety fosters mistrust and hostility towards others. It produces a heightened form of individualism where people either feel far superior to others or very much inferior. This perpetuates the anxiety, fuels further mistrust and the further eroding of social cohesion. It affects those that have and those that have not in equal measure.

This book doesn’t answer all the questions but it certainly goes along way down the road. Also, it doesn’t offer solutions, save make society more equal. It gives you the goal but leaves it open as to which road to follow. It challenges a lot of preconceptions people have about tackling social ills.

I urge you to read this book. If enough people are made aware and can be convinced by the message that equality is not only desirable, but essential for improving the quality of life for all, then we can build a better world.

For more information please visit the Equality Trust website.


  1. Your cynicism is justified. What they show is persuasive on the face of it, but it's what they keep hidden that counts. See, for example:"

  2. I have an open mind on 'The Spirit Level' but reactionary nonsense is hardly going to help. I need objective views.