Why equality matters

The fight against inequality must become a much higher political priority, according to a report published by a new think tank, the Centre for Labour and Social Studies. It highlights evidence showing that most social problems are worse in more unequal societies, and that inequality lies at their root. It says inequality has also played a significant role in the global economic crisis.

The report summarises a wide range of research on the effects of inequality, drawing in particular on the books The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone (by Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett) and The Cost of Inequality: Three Decades of the Super-rich and the Economy (by Stewart Lansley).

Key points

  • There is a mass of evidence showing that inequality is behind most social problems in advanced countries. If inequality were lower, these problems would be less severe. A smaller gap between rich and poor means a happier, healthier and more successful population.
  • The most unequal countries, including the UK, have much worse social problems than the most equal countries. If the UK were more equal, everyone would be better off. If inequality were halved, murder rates and obesity would halve too; mental illness would reduce by one-third; imprisonment rates and births to teenage mothers would decrease by one-fifth. Social mobility and levels of trust would greatly improve too.
  • Income inequality arises first and foremost in the workplace and it is there that the remedies need to start - for example, by introducing low pay ratios, and promoting trade union and employment rights.
  • Reforming the tax system can produce greater equality - for example, by increasing inheritance and property tax, and cracking down on tax havens.
  • Public services have a massive effect on increasing the well-being and opportunities of those on the lowest incomes - for example, by reducing the cost of university education for those who cannot afford it, and increasing the supply of good affordable housing.

Source: My Fair London (in association with The Equality Trust), Why Equality Matters, Centre for Labour and Social Studies
Links: Report | CLASS press release

See also: Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone, Penguin | Stewart Lansley, The Cost of Inequality: Three Decades of the Super-rich and the Economy, Gibson Square Books

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