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Rising inequalities to blame for many of world's ills, say experts

Posted on 8 February 2017

Academics at the University of York argue that the world’s collective failure to reverse inequality is at the heart of a global malaise - from populism to climate change.

Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Professors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson say societies with bigger income differences tend to have poorer physical and mental health, higher levels of illicit drug use and more obesity.

Increasingly unequal societies are also marked by more violence, weaker community life and less trust.

Other global risks stemming from inequality range from ‘fiscal crises’ to ‘profound social instability’, increasing the polarisation of societies and national sentiment. As inequality drives consumerism and over-consumption, it also contributes to a changing climate and ‘degrading environments’.

Inaction prevails

Yet despite decades of research showing that we need to tackle these structural determinants if we want to reduce inequalities, inaction prevails and therefore health inequalities remain undiminished.

Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology in York’s Department of Health Sciences and Research Champion for Justice and Equality, said: “In many cities in the UK and USA, we continue to see life expectancy gaps of 5 to 10 years - and occasionally of 15 to 20 years - between the richest and poorest areas.

“The long term failure, even of ostensibly progressive governments, to tackle these glaring injustices is perhaps one of the reasons why public opinion has swung so strongly away from the established political parties.

“The public’s sense of being left behind will only exacerbate the negative health effects of austerity, which are starting to emerge in our health statistics.

Inspiring vision

The researchers point out that during the last generation, economic growth ceased to improve health, happiness and the quality of life in rich countries.

Professor Pickett adds: “Now, more than ever, we need an inspiring vision of a future capable of creating more equal societies that increase sustainable wellbeing for all of us and for the planet.”

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