Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Equality Is A Must

If you read one political book this year, it should be The Spirit Level. A masterly survey that summarises decades of research on the effects of inequality on society, it proves that all of the most important areas of our lives are worsened by extreme gaps between rich and poor.

Of course, this is exactly the case that Greens have been making for decades - that while absolute poverty is clearly something that must be tackled (everyone should have the basics of life, a principle that is contained within the UN Declaration of Human Rights), the ever widening inequality in our society is also at the root of many of the problems that we face. Someone can be above 'the breadline', and still feel insecure, stressed and anxious about their place in society, their power over their own life, and their ability to have any influence over their community.

As Marshall Sahlins has put it: "Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status...it has grown...as an invidious distinction between classes."

The Equality Trust, which is the project started by the authors of the book, provides a lot of the evidence base for the effects of inequality on the issues that trouble the UK today - and many of them couldn't be more relevant to Hackney, one of the most unequal boroughs in the country. The correlation between violence and inequality, for example, is striking - and instructive, given the latest in a string of shootings on Amhurst Road just this weekend. Similarly, the relationship between education and inequality is plain to see - and so on, from obesity to depression to drug use.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the book, however, is the way in which the authors reveal the obvious truth - that living in an unjust, unequal and dysfunctional society is bad for all of us - not just those in the bottom quartile or half. We all feel the effects of inequality. To quote from the Equality Trust website:

"One of the most striking and important features of these relationships is that the differences in the prevalence of the various social problems are so large. Some are two or three times as common in more unequal societies, but others are as much as ten times as common. The evidence suggests that this is partly because inequality affects the vast majority of the population - not just the poorest.

Finally, it tends to be the same societies which do well on each of the different outcomes just as it is the same ones which do badly. Because inequality affects so many different outcomes, if you know that a society does badly - for instance - on health, it is likely that it also does badly on a wide range of social problems: it probably has high levels of violence, high teen birth rates, a high prison population, lower levels of trust, more obesity, and a bigger drug problem. Put simply, it looks as if societies with large income inequalities become socially dysfunctional."

I pledge today that if I am elected to Parliament, the issue of poverty and inequality will be at the very top of my agenda. The Green Party is committed to higher rates of tax for the rich and better provision for the most vulnerable - and if you elect me as your MP, I'll do my utmost to make sure that Parliament starts striving to reduce the gap between rich and poor, not widen it.

As the Green Party's outgoing Policy Co-ordinator said at our Hove Conference only last week - "Peter Mandelson famously said that Labour are 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'. Well, we Greens are 'intensely relaxed about the filthy rich getting a bit poorer'." Too right. Lets toss the Thatcherite consensus overboard, and get working to recreate some solidarity in the UK - and where better to start than Hackney?

Those who are interested in hearing more about the Equality Trust can check out this YouTube video:

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