British Quakers have given a warm response to a call by the academic and author Richard Wilkinson for a more economically equal society. Speaking at their annual conference in York, he insisted that more equal societies almost always do better.
About 800 Quakers heard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology at Nottingham University, display years of research showing the correlation between economic inequality on the one hand and ill health and lack of social cohesion on the other.
“It's quite clear that the social fabric of society gets worse as inequality increases” he insisted, pointing to a range of material comparing detailed information from the relatively rich countries of the world.
More equal societies, such as Sweden, Japan and Norway, have significantly lower rates of infant mortality, mental health problems, drug use and teenage pregnancy than far less equal societies such as the USA, Portugal and the UK. They also have higher levels of trust.
This being so, Wilkinson argued that economic growth doesn't “produce the goods” for improvements to society in the world's wealthier countries.
His lecture was greeted with prolonged applause and a series of questions.
In response to one question about child poverty, he said that it was unrealistic to try to tackle poverty in the UK without tackling inequality.
“Almost everyone benefits from greater equality,” insisted Wilkinson, “Usually the benefits are greatest among the poor but extend to the majority of the population”.
He recently attracted support for his findings with the publication of his book The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better, co-written with Kate Pickett.
His talk comprised this year's Salter Lecture, an annual event run by the Quaker Socialist Society.
The Yearly Meeting of British Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends as they are more formally known, is running at York University until Saturday.
More information on Richard Wilkinson's approach can be found at the website of the Equality Trust: www.equalitytrust.org.uk.