Memo to the mainstream: where’s the vision, where’s the courage?

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 Trust

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10 Responses to “Memo to the mainstream: where’s the vision, where’s the courage?”

  1. David Wearing

    RT @leftfootfwd: Memo to the mainstream: where’s the vision, where’s the courage?

  2. John Booth

    How about suicide rates? And poverty?

  3. Mark

    Can you force a society to become more equal? Britain’s got thousands of years of feudalism to contend with, more cohesive societies like Japan, Sweden or Switzerland have very different structures as a result of a legacy of co-operation.

    I note that the government ditched most of the recommendations of Milburn’s report yesterday. Income inequality is at an all time high under Labour, and I don’t suspect the Tories will do much. So we’re far from an “electoral majority”, there’s barely a minority in favour of changing things.

  4. The Equality Trust

    Memo to the mainstream: where's the vision, where's the courage?

  5. Arlene McKay

    RT @equalitytrust: Memo to the mainstream: where's the vision, where's the courage?

  6. One Society campaign

    RT @equalitytrust: Memo to the mainstream: where's the vision, where's the courage?

  7. Oxford Kevin

    Mark, you don’t have to force a society to become more equal, but you can put in place policies that push it in that direction, in a far less aggressive way than Thatcher did to force Britain to become a far less equal society, whether she did that on purpose might be up for discussion but her policies had that result. Labour has tried to deal with the symptoms of inequality but made no attempt to deal with the cause of those problems. Demonstrating through its failure that you really can’t do much about those social issues until you address the cause.

  8. Joan Snow

    RT @equalitytrust: Memo to the mainstream: where's the vision, where's the courage?

  9. N J Mayes

    What else do Japan, Sweden and Switzerland have in common? Not just low inequality but traditionally very low immigration, less tolerance of crime and disorder, and generally more social conservatism and more of the sort of ‘one nation’ cohesion that liberal multiculturalism, as much as economic liberalism, has weakened in Britain. Greater equality is a worth goal, but it’s only half the story.

  10. Bill Kerry

    Thanks for the comments above. I would direct people to the FAQ section on our website for most of the points raised. Suicide rates are slightly higher in more equal countries – this is why the strapline of “The Spirit Level” said more equal societies “almost” always do better. Maybe the violence is turned inwards in more equal, more stable, societies? There’s probably a PhD thesis in there somewhere…

    I don’t think you can force a society to become more equal (and we wouldn’t want to) but the cases of Japan and Sweden are interesting in that there was a conscious political decision taken to make the countries more equal. In Sweden I believe it was framed by the Social Democrats as being about building “the People’s Home” (they had some really nasty labour diputes in the pre-war period and society was far from harmonious) and in Japan it was a reaction to the humiliation of WW2 and a desire to get away from all their hierarchical/imperialist past. The Equality Trust is largely about providing information so that people can make their minds up about what sort of society they want – and thereby generate the necessary social and political will to make the correct choices. I would say that countries generally have the levels of inequality and poverty they choose to accept.

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