Moving the UK from being one of the most unequal developed world societies to being one of the most equal would yield huge benefits, new research has confirmed.
The determination of our mainstream politicians to tackle the enormous challenges of the twenty-first century with timid twentieth-century ideas remains undimmed. The policies and speeches tumbling out in the pre-election phoney war positively reek of the mid-1990s.
If there is one theme emerging it is the almost ritualistic invocation of social mobility as a cure-all for our ills. But just how long do we have to wait until social mobility kicks in? The available evidence suggests that we may have to wait a long time. This bleak picture was strongly corroborated by the Milburn report last year on social mobility.
Why does the UK do so badly? In a word: inequality. This brute fact will always swamp all the various well-meaning initiatives designed to address inequality and poverty by promoting greater equality of opportunity and encouraging social mobility.
Take education – studying in a vastly unequal society is an overwhelming uphill struggle where low social status relative to others often damages performance. Where there is a narrower gap between rich and poor there are reduced status differentiations and educational performance is much better as a result. It is perhaps then no surprise that more equal societies tend to gain more patents per head than more unequal societies.
The evidence assembled by Wilkinson & Pickett in The Spirit Level indicates that moving the UK from being one of the most unequal developed world societies to being one of the most equal would yield huge benefits (illustrated above) such as:
• Homicide rates – halved
• Mental illness – reduced by two thirds
• Obesity – halved
• Imprisonment – reduced by 80%
• Teen births – reduced by 80%
• Levels of trust – increased by 85%
What democratic government would not want to deliver that sort of improvement? Also, how can this sort of grand vision not be politically attractive? The scale of the improvements within grasp are far too large to be confined just to the poorest sections of society – the benefits of greater equality clearly “cascade up” the social hierarchy almost to the very top (a neat contrast to the obvious failures of “trickle-down”).
This must surely offer a real chance to construct a broad electoral majority in favour of the policies required.
All we need now are people, politicians and parties bold enough to set out the vision, make the case and develop the policies. To aid this process The Equality Trust is about to launch the One Society campaign which will seek to make inequality a central election issue across the political spectrum.
We hope you’ll support this campaign and help us advance the case that narrowing the gap between rich and poor is the only comprehensive and serious way to improve our society.
Our guest writer is Bill Kerry, Director of The Equality TrustLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.