Author of The Spirit Level encourages people to think globally but act locally

Light at End of Tunnel

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) reflects on the 3rd I4P Annual Lecture given by Professor Kate Pickett last night:

Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level) set out a powerful and insightful case that demonstrated the link between inequality and poverty, and the inter-connections with poor health, depression and social inequality.

During the Q and A, she also made the case for strong and vibrant unions as an indicator, not just of the potential protection they offered their members, but of a healthier political and civic set of relationships too.

She covered the key points discussed and analysed in her book (written with Professor Richard Wilkinson) but she also set out the case for action.

As she said in her introduction, she wanted to explore the roles and responsibilities of researchers working in this field of study, so an important part of the talk was on what could be done.

She re-iterated a slogan used by sustainability advocates after the Rio Summit in the 1990s: Think Globally but Act Locally. And in doing so she set out the case for employers and organisations (as well as public institutions) to take up and adopt the Living Wage and sign up for accreditation to the Living Wage Foundation.

She referenced the work of Fairness Commissions and their recommendations (taken from more than 20 across the UK) for public bodies to adopt measures that would mitigate some of the impact of the policies adopted by the Government which impact on poverty.

The work of food banks and many small, as well as large charities might help in some ways, but whilst their work might be necessary it is hardly sufficient.

Two additional things : I4P has carried out a review of Fairness Commissions for the Webb Memorial Trust and we are involved in a continuing piece of work for them details on the web site and May 4 we are screening The Divide a film inspired by The Spirit Level – hope you can join us.

The debate on poverty and inequality should include actions too


Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) looks ahead to the 3rd Annual I4P Lecture on 9 February:

This year’s lecture is being given by Professor Kate Pickett (York University and co-author of The Spirit Level).

The Spirit Level addresses in a powerful and straightforward way, the causes of poverty and also inequality, not only here in the UK but across the world. The book can be read as a careful and systematic analysis of a range of data which illustrate the relationships between health, poor housing, low paid work, unemployment and poverty. But it is not merely a well argued, well informed analysis of the data. It points to the actions that governments as well as employers can take to address these structural inequalities and it argues as well, that both the non-actions of the state and those of employers represent choices to maintain inequality.

It seems to me that the value of The Spirit Level lies in the way it sets out the data and the evidence. You don’t have to agree with their recommendations for action but it is hard to dispute their analysis. And for those that agree and share the analysis and the overall set of actions, it is important to think of what we then choose to do. We can choose to agree with the analysis but say that we can’t adopt some of the recommendations (including adopting the Living Wage or looking at our procurement policies and thinking about our capacity to influence our suppliers and contractors) because we don’t have the power or we can seek to adopt the recommendations as one set of small steps that begin to change the lives and working conditions of those who are dependent on our choices.

We are involved in a funded piece of work from the Webb Memorial Trust on ‘What Makes a Good Society’ – adopting these recommendations would be a start.