Major new study exposes hidden causes of inequality
Hidden and unacknowledged beliefs are responsible for the UK's social inequality, according to a leading geographer at the University of Sheffield, whose research is set to be revealed in a new book published this week (Wednesday 21 April 2010).
In his book entitled Injustice: Why social inequality persists, Professor Danny Dorling claims that in rich countries, where there are now plenty of resources to go around, inequality is caused by deep-rooted, unacknowledged beliefs. Professor Dorling argues that, as the five social evils identified by Beveridge at the dawn of the British welfare state (ignorance, want, idleness, squalor and disease) are gradually being eradicated, social injustices are now being recreated, renewed and supported by five new sets of unjust beliefs:
• Elitism is efficient: educational apartheid in the UK has risen as the majority of additional qualifications in recent decades have been awarded to a minority of young adults.
• Exclusion is necessary: social segregation has increased as real financial rewards and benefits to those worse off have fallen — just as the riches of the wealthy have grown.
• Prejudice is natural: a wider racism has developed, a new social Darwinism, which sees some people as inherently less deserving and able than those who 'need' great rewards to work.
• Greed is good: a mantra is becoming more widely accepted that economic growth is necessary at almost any cost including growing global inequalities and mounting debt.
• Despair is inevitable: the rise in depression and anxiety is best understood as a symptom of living in times and places when wide inequalities are seen as acceptable.
The research addresses the fact that, by income, the UK is the fourth most unequal of the 25 richest countries in the world.
In his book, which is based on significant academic research across a range of fields, Professor Dorling also suggests that each belief has created a new and distinct set of victims.
These victims include a sixth of people in more unequal rich countries, who are excluded from full membership of society because of poverty, while a much smaller proportion exclude themselves from social norms by dint of their wealth.
In addition, Professor Dorling sheds light on how a fifth of adults in countries like Britain and the United States are now serial 'debtors' as rising inequalities in income and wealth have made it more likely that people get into debt in order to keep up with their peer group.
The research also explores how a third of families in Britain now contain someone who suffers depression or chronic anxiety disorder. According to Professor Dorling, living in more unequal affluent countries harms the mental well-being of people in general, especially adolescents who now face such uncertain futures.
Professor Danny Dorling, from the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield said: "These are beliefs which have been publicly condemned as wrong and most individuals would claim not to support them. However, their acceptance by just a few, and the reluctance of many others to confront those few, is crucial to maintaining injustice in such times and lands of plenty."
Speaking about the book, fellow social commentator Richard Wilkinson, a Professor of Medical Epidemiology at Nottingham University and co-author of The Spirit Level, a research book which considered why more equal societies are more successful, commented: "Beliefs which serve privilege, elitism and inequality infect our minds like computer viruses. But now Professor Dorling has provided the brain-cleaning software we need to begin creating a happier society."
Professor Dorling will be speaking about Injustice and signing books on Monday 26 April 2010 at Blackwell's bookstore on Mappin Street, Sheffield, from 5.30pm.
He will also be speaking about his research at the RSA in London at 6pm on Thursday 22 April 2010. For more information and to sign-up for free, visit: http://www.thersa.org/events/our-events/why-social-inequality-persists
Notes for Editors: Injustice: Why social inequality persists by Daniel Dorling is published by The Policy Press on 21 April 2010, price £19.99 hardback (ISBN 978 1 84742 4266). It is available to buy from www.policypress.co.uk at 25% discount, or from Marston Book Services, P O Box 269, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YN Tel: 01235 465500 plus £2.75 postage and packing
The book contains seven tables and 25 figures. A bibliography of over 1500 recent pieces of evidence has also been brought together in creating the arguments to try to show where much new thinking is heading. An online appendix with 8 tables is available at the link below.
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Of all the 25 richest countries in the world (excluding very small states), the US and the UK rank as second and fourth most unequal respectively when the annual income of the best-off tenth of their population is compared with that of the poorest tenth. Starting with the most unequal, the top five 10% richest:10% poorest income ratios are:
And the most equal are:
(For more on this list see Footnote 37 page 327 of 'Injustice')
Britain is at its most unequal for 80 years in terms of inequalities in income (the share of the richest 1% is almost back to 1920s levels); in terms of geographical inequalities in health (areas are as polarised as in the 1930s); and in terms of spatial polarisation in voting (approach 1918 levels of spatial segregation by 2010). All figures in Table 5 of 'Injustice' (p. 176).
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