Spirit leveller

Research is rarely a comfortable read for the north east. In recent months, surveys have informed us our region has the worst records for lung cancer, alcohol addiction, youth unemployment, suicide rates and hospital admissions for drug poisoning. It also has the lowest pay and lowest incomes. Kate Pickett believes she can prove the link.

In her modest office on the University of York’s Heslington campus, epidemiologist Kate Pickett is working on the next chapter of her effort to demonstrate scientifically the correlation between income inequality and health and social problems, while highlighting the benefits of closing the gap between rich and poor.

Her first book, The Spirit Level, which she co-wrote with Richard Wilkinson, plotted the performance of countries across the globe against reams of data on social well-being such as obesity, health, teenage pregnancies, crime, drug use, life expectancy, literacy and murder rates. The conclusion? People in more equal societies tend to be healthier and happier, enjoying more trust and greater social cohesion.

Photography by Jon Forster

Photography by Jon Forster

Published in 2009, it was an unlikely bestseller, outselling even Jeremy Clarkson one week. More importantly, income inequality became part of the national and international conversation. Barack Obama described income inequality as the “defining challenge of our times”. Pope Francis declared “inequality is the roots of social ills”.

A stage play, based on the book, has been performed this year in Morocco and Sweden while a documentary, The Divide, will be shown in UK cinemas next spring.

The Spirit Level sequel she’s working on now will, says Pickett, “have more psychology and neurobiology” but will continue to make its argument simple: “because people don’t read difficult books”. Pickett spoke with The Northern Correspondent about the resurgence of interest in inequality, Corbynism and her optimism for the north east.


Read the full version in The Northern Correspondent #5