Because more equal societies work better for everyone

Drilling Down to The Inner Level - by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Wednesday, 6 June, 2018

We are delighted to present this special guest blog from Richard and Kate about their new book, The Inner Level, published this week.

June 7th sees the release of our new book, The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing.  Equality Trust supporters might think it’s been a long time coming – it is almost 10 years since The Spirit Level – and they would be right.  We wrote The Spirit Level in a fast-paced twelve months or so, but The Inner Level has had a much longer gestation.

There are reasons why The Spirit Level just seemed to pour out fairly effortlessly.  We had been studying the impact of inequality for many years, accumulating the evidence of the damage that inequality causes, creating widespread population health and social problems.  We wrote the book to bring that deep well of knowledge to public attention, realising that nobody knew the story we had to tell. For Richard, The Spirit Level, was the capstone to a long career researching health inequalities, and he saw it as a last attempt to bring the issue of income inequality into public and political debate.

In part, it has taken us so long to produce The Inner Level because of the unexpected success of The Spirit Level. Added to our research, we now both spend a lot of time talking about inequality to anybody who will listen.  In the past decade, we’ve given hundreds of talks, in settings ranging from international organisations like the UN, OECD and EU, to national politicians in a large number of countries, to local Fairness Commissions, to academics, religious groups, NGOs, local Equality Groups, and one one occasion a residential home for the elderly.  Our Spirit Level travels have taken us to every continent but Antarctica, and we have seen this work as a bit of a mission – a fantastic moment of opportunity to reach people with the message.  But we’ve missed the days where we sat writing together at one long desk, swapping ideas and drafts…it’s been much harder this time round to find the time to write together.

But our busy-ness isn’t the only reason it’s taken us so long to write The Inner Level, the other reason is much more exciting; the past decade has also seen an outpouring of new research of the effects of inequality, which has deepened our understanding and strengthened the evidence base.  Research on inequality has flourished among psychologists, economists, sociologists and environmental scientists, as well as among public health epidemiologists like us.  We’ve been gathering all of these new pieces of the puzzle and fitting them into the picture.

In The Spirit Level, we painted a picture with a pretty broad brush.  We showed that inequality affected lots of things, that the effects were large, and that not only the poor were affected.  The evidence relied on statistical correlations between inequality and various problems across developed countries, or US states.  In The Inner Level, we dig beneath those statistics (although we also have plenty more of them!) to get to the core of the way inequality affects us most intimately, how it gets into our heads to affect our thoughts and feelings, our ideas of success and failure, our relationships with each other, and the stress and mental illness suffered by so many of us.  There is a deep psychology of inequality that we need to understand if humanity is to flourish.

The Inner Level is being published in a very different political, economic and social context to The Spirit Level.  We’ve had the Global Financial Crisis, we’ve seen waves of migration caused by global inequalities, and the rise of populism in our divided societies where so many feel left so far behind.  And we’ve gone from a situation where nobody was talking about inequality to one where it seems like everybody is talking about it.  In 2017, at Davos, the World Economic Forum report on global risks ranked rising income and wealth disparity as the most important trend likely to determine development across the world over the next decade. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and international organisations such as Oxfam and Action Aid, also understand the central importance of inequality.  Reducing inequality is one of 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.  And yet….very little changes.

In the UK, both the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation predict that income inequality will increase in the coming years and so, while there has been a real shift in the recognition of the harms of inequality, it is as urgent as ever to campaign for change.  We promise you to keep going, advocating for greater equality and trying to reach as many people as we can.  And we hope you will keep going to, supporting each other and The Equality Trust, and fighting for a world where we can all flourish.

Profs. Kate Pickett & Richard Wilkinson
Authors of The Spirit Level and The Inner Level
Co-founders and Trustees of The Equality Trust 

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