Alex Bax, Chair of My Fair London, recently spoke to members of London Plus in the voluntary sector. Read his ideas below:
Three Ideas for a Fairer London
In our society, money and wealth equal power and status. Due to this, the impact of inequality is such that it affects how we feel about ourselves and others. The impact on the individual, psychological level is what makes inequality so insidious and harmful.
Most of us have walked into a room and, having to introduce ourselves, have experienced anxiety. It’s a very common feeling and very real. It’s a feeling triggered by feelings of social judgment; who are they? What do they think of me? Are they better than me? Do I belong in this room, space or group? When placed in a new social situation, we analyse ourselves and others in this way.
As these feelings are triggered adrenalin will be released in your brain, your blood pressure will rise, energy is being released to your muscles, your pupils will dilate – your body’s flight or fight mechanism is being switched on. Usually you are not facing a tiger and the feelings pass, the adrenalin will have helped you through the moment, but it is these feelings, and our bodies natural physiological responses demonstrate the stress inequality can trigger in our minds and bodies. When we feel judged - particularly when we feel unfairly judged - and when our status is determined by our social position, we feel threatened, and it hurts. We are deeply social animals, and therefore are attuned to position and status within the social structures we occupy. The more unequal the society, the more stress, judgement and threat we experience. In turn, the psychological impact worsens and we feel worse.
We all do much better when inequality is low, or we all do better when we all do better.
The more equal we are the more we tend to trust each other, the more we listen to others’ opinions, and the less judged we feel by the gaze of our fellow humans. Living in an unequal society is hard. It creates wear and tear on our minds and our bodies; it’s toxic. In a society where money defines your worth and determines how we value others, individualistic thinking is fostered. It makes us more fearful and less trusting of others. Higher inequality in turn creates tolerance of human suffering such as homelessness. Inequality damages our social relations.
Economic inequality – how all the stuff we have is shared out — is the most dominant form of inequality in developed countries.
What Does this Mean For Our City?
In London, money, wealth and the things it can buy are grotesquely unfairly distributed. We have been much more equal in the past and examining how inequality is different in other countries demonstrates that we can hope to be much more equal in the future.
So we want the Mayor, as well as charities, businesses, community groups and neighbourhoods - upon recognising how damaging inequality is, how its impacts are everywhere - to take sustained action to narrow the gaps between rich and poor.
What’s in it for us?
In more unequal countries, incidents of recorded mental health conditions are 2-3 times higher than than those countries with greater equality. Levels of mental illness are a pretty good marker for how well we are all doing. So more equity equals better mental health, less mental distress.
Not only that but more equality could also produce the following effects:
- Lower teenage pregnancy rates
- Less addiction
- Lower violence
- Lower rates of obesity
- More equal outcomes in education
- Higher rates of recycling
- Fewer people in prison
- Higher life expectancy
- More creativity and innovative; it is likely and logical that people will feel more productive when they are treated equally.
In particular, this final point is rather telling; don’t believe anyone who says the current economic and social structures are good for the economy. It is simply not true.
Inequality is the underlying problem. So we can therapise and medicate our distressed young people to help them manage the harm or we can create a fairer society for them to live in.
So our three proposals for the manifesto:
1) As they grow and develop young people are particularly sensitive to inequality and its negative psychological impacts; we want to see the Mayor champion fairness and equity for young Londoners. We need proper funding for schools, children’s services, youth services and a deep commitment to slanting the funding towards places and groups with the highest need. Everyone working with children should pay attention to questions of status. Schools and families need the resources so we genuinely support young people from poorer backgrounds in ways that don’t heighten stigma or negative social judgments.
2) Economic inequalities are the most powerful and dominant form of inequality and have the greatest impact on us and our society. They have been growing because of the growth in incomes and in the wealth of the rich. The average FTSE 100 CEO to employee had a pay ratio of 129:1 in 2016. By comparison, this ration was around 20:1 in the 1960s. So in our manifesto we call for the Mayor to lead by adopting and endorsing a 10:1 pay ratio in the GLA, TFL and other agencies he leads, and to call on the private sector to follow his lead. No boss needs to earn more than ten times their lowest paid worker. This would be a powerful signal to Londoners, and to the world. London should show this kind of leadership.
3) Finally, we want to see the Mayor of London identify inequality as the defining problem of his or her administration. We want to see the Mayor talk about inequality in housing, the economy and employment; in relation to knife crime, climate change, air pollution, education, health, planning and development, even in football. We want to see the Mayor name and shame the selfishness and greed at the top of our society and connect inequality and its web of consequences to the social problems we all face. We want inequality to frame and define the Mayor’s term of office and for the Mayor to set a clear target to narrow the gap between rich and poor in our city.