I was delighted that acclaimed author Professor Richard Wilkinson, who co-wrote The Spirit Level with Professor Kate Pickett, was able to appear as the guest expert at the 3rd Oldham Fairness Commission (OFC) hearing on inequalities in income at Shaw and Crompton Parish Council, on 4th April.
Over the past five years, Professor Wilkinson and his co-author have given over 700 seminars and conference lectures around the world addressing academics, religious groups, think-tanks of both right and left, and international agencies such as the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the European Union and the International Labour Organisation.
Having been an admirer of Professor Wilkinson’s work for some time I knew we were going to experience a quality presentation and I can honestly say all the Commissioners were impressed by what they saw and heard. Richard and Kate’s careful research over the years has resulted in an incredible bank of evidence that screams out that fairer societies, where the gap between rich and poor is narrowed, is better for everyone.
Their work shows how life expectancy, mental health, educational performance, social mobility, and crime reflects the gap between rich and poor. The bigger the gap, the lower your life expectancy, the poorer your mental health and the less socially mobile communities are. The smaller the gap, the longer you are more likely to live, and so on.
Richard and Kate’s ambitions when writing the book were high. They wanted to make a difference, change the political debate, and influence government policy. That’s exactly what the Oldham Fairness Commission is trying to do too. I believe that we must approach the inequalities in Oldham with the same vigour if we are going to effectively tackle issues like the fact that men from lower income backgrounds in our town die up to ten years younger than those in more affluent parts of the borough.
I’m really grateful to Richard for coming to Oldham to share his knowledge with the Fairness Commission and now it’s up to us to take the opportunity to use his findings to make a positive difference for ourselves.
Speaking to me after the session, Professor Wilkinson said: “I really enjoyed speaking to the Oldham Fairness Commission and discussing with the Commissioners how the findings of our research on the effect of inequality in different countries can help Oldham. Setting up the Fairness Commission shows a commitment to social justice. It is a sign that people are determined to find ways to reduce inequalities locally.
“At the national level the coalition government is unfortunately failing to reverse the continuing tendency for the richest 1% to get richer faster than the rest of our society. The Equality Trust calculates that the richest 100 people in Britain now have as much wealth as the poorest 30% of households. The top-to-bottom pay ratios of around 300:1 in the FTSE 100 companies is completely unacceptable.
“If you wanted to make people at the bottom feel almost worthless, it is hard to think of a more powerful way of doing so than to pay them just one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets. I wish the Oldham Fairness Commission every success.”
Pictured at the OFC Income Session from left to right are Cathy Butterworth (Oldham Council), Mike Kelly (KPMG), Debbie Abrahams MP, Professor Richard Wilkinson (Co-Author of The Spirit Level), Cllr Jenny Harrison (Cabinet Member for Commissioning and Public Sector Reform, Oldham Council)
Thanks to nwsomedia.co.uk for the photo.