The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Todd Hannula, chief executive, Camberwell
Arguments about improving social mobility have been bandied about for decades – you could almost say they form much of the dividing line between capitalism and socialism, or between conservatism and liberalism. History shows that no one system has been an unqualified success, so I am somewhat surprised that, several decades down the line, we are still having the same old arguments.
That’s why, as chief executive of a company which is driving regeneration through enterprise in some of our most economically challenged urban areas, I have been particularly drawn to this book, co-written by a professor of epidemiology at Nottingham University. It goes beyond the usual themes of left and right to point out that inequality damages societies at every level, not just those at the bottom. By collating the data from over 100 surveys going back many years, they show that, in more unequal societies, depression, drug misuse, obesity and a whole host of other social ills are more prevalent across all levels, not just among the poorest. They conclude that it is inequality we should be tackling, not simply poverty per se.
I like this book because it looks at the data in a robust fashion without regard for a political agenda. It will be a hard pill to swallow as the solutions will depend on unpopular methods (such as taxation), but for the first time there is clear data supporting the idea that, by levelling the playing field, substantial benefit will be attained by both the rich and the poor.