Inequality: a deadly killer
By Archie Mackinnon
Inequality by its sociological definition is the unequal/unjust distribution of resources and opportunities in a society, and in many developed countries, certain social issues like crime, health, and homelessness are impacted by this inequality in society although some politicians and wealthy/powerful individuals seem to think that it has all-encompassing benefits. The outcome of inequality currently in our economic system keeps individuals who are struggling unable to come out from the depths of poverty whilst continually creating wealth for those at the top. By Looking at the cross-section between health and class it can be seen how this is false. Over the course of the pandemic studies have collected enough data to show the vulnerability of the working-class to the virus and this is just further inclination that something needs to be done about the health inequality in contemporary Britain.
Smoking: a Consequence of Class
Inequality can be detrimental to the physical and mental health of those effected. Socio-economic status can be used to show this as smoking is most common amongst those who experience forms of deprivation as shown by the ONS, “routine and manual workers in England were more than twice as likely to be smokers” in comparison to professional/managerial roles in England, other characteristics such as economic activity, sexuality, education, etc. also had significant effect on chance to smoke. For example, those in rented accommodations were among the highest proportion of smokers when compared to property owners and those with a mortgage by a wide margin (7.9% property owners, 10.1% those with a mortgage, 29.8% of local authority or housing association renters, and 22.2% of private renters, (Department of Health and Social Care, 2020)). The potential effects certain inequalities have on smoking is significant with many dying prematurely as a cause. Moreover, the long-term health effects smoking has on the respiratory system has proven to be fatal for many working-class people during the pandemic as they were more likely to have severe complications due to worsened lung health (Hopkinson, Rossi, El-Sayed_Moustafa, 2021).
Income, Inflation, Inequality
Income inequality is a driving factor in the social problems associated with health in society. Many developed countries that may achieve a high economic growth and larger average levels of income still see a high level of social problems manifested in them (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2010). Modern societies pride themselves on higher standards of living through increases in average income and better access to certain institutions like education and hospitals. However, the current situation many countries are facing show that many social problems are widely prevalent. In Britain, cheap and unreliable housing is not uncommon for those on lower incomes, but still with the cost of housing rising and being a main propulsion of inflation rate in the UK many families live in ‘fuel poverty’, unable to sufficiently warm their houses to a safe temperature. This can lead to cold and mouldy rooms affecting those living in these houses possibly leading to respiratory disease especially in young children.
Furthermore, as inflation rises steadily and scarily higher – over the past 10 years the most recent year of Jan 2021 to Jan 2022 has seen the steepest increase in inflation from 0.9% to a dangerous level of 4.9%, a total of 4% rise in just a year (Department of Economics, 2022) – because of the many current world crises, the inability to feed oneself or others fully and properly becomes harder, especially considering the lack of a living wage among most low-income jobs. The purchasing power of the working class has been declining and will continue to decline, if wages for manual and routine jobs does not go up, the long-term effects on health will increase considerably due to lack of access to a healthier diet.
There is still time to change the economic situation we are in, many sociologists consistently put forward ideas and alternatives to how we are living, possible government policy that could help achieve a greater and more equal society, reducing inequality and bringing people up to high levels of health. Picketty suggests that economic policy can be used to give greater funds to government which can be substantial in a fight against health inequality if it’s put in the right place. Suggesting a global wealth tax on individuals and corporations to reduce the power of the richest people and redistribute the masses of wealth they hold (Picketty, 2020), this type of policy to reduce the accumulation of unthinkable wealth (the top ten richest people have as much money as the GDP of numerous countries) could potentially bring many people out of extreme poverty without even putting a noticeable dent into the wealth of these oligarchs.
Department of Economics, (2022), ‘Consumer price inflation, UK: January 2022’
Department of Health and Social Care, 2020, ‘Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2019’
Hopkinson N. S., Rossi N. , El-Sayed_Moustafa J. , et al, 2021, ‘Current smoking and COVID-19 risk: results from a population symptom app in over 2.4 million people’ Thorax 76(7), 714-722.
Piketty, T. (2020). ‘Capitalism and Ideology.’ Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Wilkinson, R. G. and Pickett, K. (2010), ‘The Spirit level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone’ London: Penguin