What would be your list of the most damaging current social evils in Britain today and how would you explain their survival? A very large number of writers have tried to answer this question over the decades since an answer was first offered by William Beveridge in 1942. In recent years the general public have also been asked more frequently what they think too. A great many evils are listed from all these machinations and consultations.
I thought these lists might be a good place to start when writing the book Injustice, which tries to explain why inequalities persists and are allowed to rise, even having reached, in some cases, their highest recorded levels for almost eighty years (income, health, wealth and voting inequalities). What I found was that almost all the entries in almost all the lists could be put into five broad boxes. These five separated out the five original social evils as identified in the Beveridge report. However, by comparing how the lists changed over time it was possible to see how the natures of each social evil had also changed. What began to emerge, for me at least, was a picture of how each old social evil had transformed into something often very different but equally as damaging when it came to maintaining inequality and hence injustice.
All of the new social evils are arguments for maintaining and increasing inequality or modern arguments for injustice. They are, I claim, what keep us addicted to inequality in the most unequal of countries. Some people used to say that smoking was good for the constitution. It helped you develop a “productive cough”, cleared out the lungs. There are still people today who say that inequality is good, it rewards merit, encourages competition and fosters growth and consumption – these are in effect the “productive coughs” of 21st century society. And, just as there were lobbyists paid to argue for tobacco long after most people came to agree it was harmful, so too there are lobbyists today, who are paid by those who can see a short term gain in bolstering inequality, arguing for injustice and call it ‘freedom’.
Had you told someone in 1942 that there would come a day when smoking was banned in all public buildings they might well not have believed you. If you are told today that within your lifetime you could see social inequalities greatly reduced and the health and well-being of the population greatly increase as a result, will you believe it? Will our grandchildren ever understand why some people equate inequality with freedom?
Would you like to win a copy of Daniel Dorling’s Injustice: Why social inequality persists? Simply post a relevant comment to either the ‘The rise and rise of social inequality’ or the ‘Is social inequality addictive’ entry and we will enter you into a prize draw to win copy of the book, we only have one to give away so join the debate now! Closing date 30th April 2010.