Inequality is still the issue

David Wearing writes: The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) has just published a free-to-download, short presentation of the key findings from Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s hugely successful book “The Spirit Level”. The pamphlet, entitled “Why Inequality Matters“, also includes a set of proposed measures to decrease the wage gap, reform the tax system, and develop public services. Its aim is to empower and enable a collective effort to push the issue of inequality into the centre of political debate.

Britain, alongside the US, is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, and as Pickett and Wilkinson showed in The Spirit Level, high levels of inequality are connected to a wide range of social ills, from poor physical and mental health to violent crime and drug abuse. The counter-assertion made by right-wing liberals that equality of opportunity is more important than equality of outcome is shown to be a false dichotomy. Social mobility is actually lowest in the most unequal countries. If you want the American dream, move to Sweden.

It is worth noting that the theory underpinning these findings is essentially drawn from the observation that human beings are deeply social animals, acutely responsive to how they relate to the rest of society. The sense of alienation caused by living in an unequal society is the source of huge anxiety, and debilitating effects on people’s sense of self, which in turn leads to some of the symptoms highlighted above. The detailed explanation of how this works presented in The Spirit Level is extremely illuminating, and I strongly recommend the original book to anyone who has yet to read it.

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