'In their book The Spirit Level, (Pickett, K. Wilkinson, R. The Spirit Level. 2nd Ed. Penguin, London, 2010) Pickett and Wilkinson set out evidence to demonstrate how health and mortality in a society are determined more by how evenly the wealth is distributed than by the overall wealth of that society. The more equally wealth is distributed, the better the health of the society. The benefits of a more equal society include increased life expectancy, better child wellbeing, social mobility and literacy, reduced obesity, teenage pregnancy, homicide and imprisonment. Inequality, on the other hand, is associated with reduced life expectancy, poorer mental health, increased rates of crime and reduced trust, social mobility and community cohesion. They comment that ‘Social status stratifications are fundamentally orderings based on power and coercion, on privileged access to resources, regardless of others’ needs.’ (Ibid)
As well as the human cost of the increasing gap between rich and poor in the UK, the economic cost to the country has been estimated as more than £39bn each year.The Equality Trust The Cost of Inequality The Equality Trust 2014.In addition, the wider annual economic cost of mental illness in England alone (direct costs of services, lost productivity at work and reduced quality of life) is likely to be over £100bn. (The Observer, 16 March 2014).
The UK government’s current target is to reduce state spending to 36 per cent of GDP, compared with 44 per cent of GDP in Germany or 50 per cent in Denmark. Severe cuts to social care budgets adversely affect support provided to elderly people, who are often isolated and ill. This in turn puts pressure on NHS hospitals and GPs. Schools are losing staff in the latest cuts. About four million children in the UK (30 per cent) are now classified as poor, of whom two-thirds are from working families. (The Guardian 16 March 2017 ) In April 2017 £12bn was removed from credits and benefits, making it likely that there will be a further 50 per cent rise in child poverty by 2020 (. The Guardian 7 May 2017)
Many people in faith groups are committed to working towards social justice and a compassionate society in which each individual is valued, and has opportunities to realise their potential. This means they contribute to thinking about how a new economy might look. In 2015 for example, the Quakers published principles that could underpin an economic system. These include:
- The purpose of the economy is the enhancement of all life, human and non-human.
- We do not over-consume the earth’s resources.
- All (including future beings) have an equal right to access and to make use of global commons such as land, soil, water, air, and the biosphere’s capacity to process greenhouse gases, within the limits of what is sustainable.
- A fundamental equality is recognised, not limited by race, gender or social origin.
- The tax system redistributes from richer to poorer, with richer people paying a greater proportion of their income. (Principles for a New Economy, Economics, Sustainability & Peace Subcommittee of Quaker Peace & Social Witness, Britain Yearly Meeting, London, 2015).
Making voluntary ground rent contributions could help, in a small way, to reduce inequalities and provide additional funds for public services in the short term. In the longer term, it could lead to the replacement of all taxes with a Land Value Tax, which would fund an Unconditional and ultimately a Universal Income, and essential public services.'