Inequality: a corrosive social pollutant
Sometimes you just need to hear the simple facts rather than a whole load of theory. Enter Richard Wilkinson, co-author of “The Spirit Level”. He was speaking at a European conference in Dublin last week, organised to mark Ireland taking over the presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, at which I represented the TUC.
Richard’s central premise is that the higher the levels of income inequality within a country, the higher the levels of health and social problems. The link is clear, and it applies irrespective of the overall wealth of a country.
Countries that are more unequal have higher rates of child poverty, higher rates of infant mortality and higher rates of teenage births. They have more mental health problems, more crime, more of their citizens are imprisoned. Social mobility is lower. Trust between citizens is lower.
The Nordic countries get this. The UK doesn’t. On almost every indicator measured by Richard Wilkinson, the UK scrapes along at the bottom of the European league table.
Describing inequality as a social pollutant is powerful stuff. But it was only last month that the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, referred to inequality as having a ‘corrosive’ impact on both growth and society.
The trade union movement has been consistent in arguing that economic recovery should be for all, not just for those at the top. Exposing pay ratios and their impact is an important part of this.