More equal societies work better for everyone
Inequality benefits the more wealthy in society while greater equality is beneficial to us all is the key message from the authors of ‘The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better’ - Prof Richard Wilkinson and Dr. Kate Pickett (www.equalitytrust.org.uk).I meet with the authors of this fascinating book last week when they presented their extensive findings at a series of events organised by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (www.publichealth.ie).
Wilkinson and Pickett, both epidemiologists, have compiled information from around 200 different sets of data, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the US Census to highlight how more unequal societies are bad for both rich as well as poor. (Download the slides or listen to a previous audio recording of their talk from http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/node/130).
The authors highlight that Britain, America and Portugal have the widest gulf between rich and poor, and the highest incidence of health and social problems.
In contrast to the more unequal societies, Scandinavia and Japan have the smallest differences between higher and lower incomes. In addition these societies have low levels of stress and higher levels of trust and better health illustrating that economics is directly linked to cultural context.
Unfortunately while specific sectors such as children were addressed in the book, older people were not. However the issues of life expectancy, trust and community life were underlying themes.
In Ireland, North and South, too many older people experience poor health, poverty and social exclusion - feeling they are not valued as contributing to society or the economy(1, 2, 3, 4). This is a theme highlighted in a forthcoming paper, by CARDI, which will provide a statistical profile of ageing in Ireland –North and South - across areas including: health and well-being, income and work and inequalities. (Access CARDI’s publications and extensive library at www.cardi.ie .)
We should learn from Scandinavia and Japan to a much greater degree, if we wish to make Ireland – North and South one of the greatest places to grow old for everyone.
(1) Did Ireland become More Unequal during the Boom? – ESRI www.esri.ie/UserFiles/publications/20090604135949/RB20090204.pdf
(2) Older People in Poverty in Ireland: an analysis www.cpa.ie/publications/workingpapers/2007-02_WP_OlderPeopleInPovertyInIreland.pdf
(3) Social Exclusions - CPA Briefings www.cpa.org.uk/policy/briefings/social_inclusion.pdf
(4) Ageing and Rural Poverty http://www.equality.nisra.gov.uk/ageing%20and%20rural%20poverty.pdf