Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Why equality is better for everyone

June 25, 2010

That’s the title of a book I’ve just read (by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett), which can be summarised by the charts below. They show very comprehensively that all manner of health and social issues (from life expectancy to mental illness, violence to illiteracy) are correlated most strongly with how equal a society is, not how wealthy it is (once a country has reached a certain wealth).

For rich countries and for the US states they took lots of different health and social measures and almost all map closely to income inequality and not to income per person. You can see the UK ranks third of these countries in terms of both income inequality and the aggregate index of health and social problems.

The authors’ hypothesis is that living in an unequal society makes people more anxious, less trusting and supportive of others and reduces social mobility to such an extent that it has profound effects on health, crime and community life. They make a convincing case for how a more equal society would benefit all of us, not just the less well-off, and that measures that reduce inequality would simultaneously tackle a multitude of health and social problems that we spend millions on tackling separately.

This chimes with the rather depressing news this morning of a study by Oxford University that has modelled the impact of the reductions in welfare payments announced this week and found they could severely impact people’s health – they’ve calculated that spending on social welfare has a bigger impact on people’s health than spending on the NHS.

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