The biggest illness in the 21st century- Economic inequality.

by | Jul 6, 2022 | Global inequalities | 0 comments

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

By Holly WIlson

COVID 19, The flu, Stomach bugs, Bronchitis, STI’s, depression, and anxiety. These are Illnesses that physically and mentally affect us, right? Well, now you can add difference in income in that list. If the richest 10 billionaires sat on top of their combined wealth piled up in US dollar bills, they would reach almost halfway to the moon. Meanwhile, half the world’s population are living on less than $5.50 each day.[1] The 21st century has seen how the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor is affecting our health.

A graph of health problems in unequal societies

The spirit level is a theory founded by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett that looks at 11 main physical and mental health problems in society, (seen to the left).[2] It shows how they are worse in more economically unequal countries. Richard Wilkinson makes a point emphasising it is not the poor that suffer more. It is countries with a larger gap between the rich and the poor in countries that see a difference.[3]

The gap between the top 20% richest and the top 20% poorest in Japan is at its lowest of only 3.4 times. However, in Singapore the gap is 9.7 times more.[4] Thererfore, Singapore are more likely to see worse states of these health and social problems.

A graph of mental health issues in unequal societies

In an unequal country we would see the lower income individuals suffering with higher rates of obesity, and teenage pregnancy. Whilst their wealthier members of a society are most likely suffering with worse mental health issues (Seen to the right)[5]. This is because the conditions at each end are more extreme. The poor are poorer, and the rich are richer. Some may fail to sympathise more with the common mental health conditions seen of the upper class, such as, status anxiety… yes, anxiety of being too rich. As Wilkinson and Pickett said in 2010 in their book The Spirit Level-“The further up the social ladder you are, the easier it becomes to feel a sense of pride. Dignity, and self confidence.” [6] As a higher up member of society and the upper class, you hold more prominance, and tend to be in the public eye. A problem arises if citizens start to view you negatively. For example, if you are caught in a scandal having an affair with your secretary on CCTV… you may see your rank in society deteriorate. This in combination with the press, you could face a downward spiral of mental health. More equal societies would see everyone more on a level playing field and therefore, less status anxiety for individuals.

A scales balances a rich man and a poor family

So why do some countries have this disparity and others don’t? Well, govements that run the country and their policies play an important role. There are many, but let’s talk about a recent Education scarce in the UK which would be an example. The UK Government have implemented a policy where you can no longer receive a student loan if you don’t get your GCSE Maths and English[7]. Some may say this is incentive from the government to work harder. Others may say that is it a way of the govenement keeping the gap between the rich and the poor by not allowing the poorer communities to be on the same playing field as them in the education system, therefore, less chance of being as sucesssful, and consequently, not be able to close the gap of inequality.


As we have seen, the UK is a pretty unequal society. So how could the country move towards closing the gap? Thinking back, when the COVID-19 lockdowns came along, this seemed like the perfect oppurtunity to look at this. Everyone was put in the same situation. COVID didn’t discriminate against ethnicity, race, rich or poor, and everyone was put in a lockdown together. Could this finally be the time where everyone is united? A time where there is no divide in our society? No. You see, part of the problem, as we discussed, is down to the leaders of the country. With the UK having a leader who went to Eton, who was part of a group who used to allegedly burn £50 notes infront of homeless people… something tells me that he may have some form of status anxiety. Economic equality may not be top of his list of priorities. This was clarified when the Government decided that even during a global pandemic, they were still superior to everyone else and clarified the divide to us, when they allegedly had secret elite parties.











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