Most of us can see in our daily lives that our world is beset with social problems: we're stressed, mistrustful, our communities have been eroded, crime is a constant problem, and the lives of growing numbers are dominated by despair and depression.
Some commentators have bemoaned our moral decline, blaming the laziness and criminality of those at the harsher end of the social scale. The perception is that all it would take to solve these problems is for the poor to pull themselves together - that anyone can be rich as long as they work hard. But is this really true?
The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, makes an arresting case to the contrary. It presents 25 years of meticulous research to show how nearly all social ills – stress, poor educational performance, poor child wellbeing, violence, unwanted teenage pregnancies – are more common in those societies with a big gap between rich and poor. What’s more, there are good reasons to believe these inequalities are at the root of our problems. At its simplest, bigger income differences reduce social cohesion and make all the problems of class and social hierarchy worse – not just for the poor, but for all of us.
The idea swept the globe in 2010 and 2011, gaining support from leaders of all political persuasions. Miliband talks about 'Spirit Level Britain', Obama claims inequality is the number one problem facing the US, and Cameron states that 'deep poverty living side by side with great riches damages us all'. Even the world’s billionaires at the annual Davos Conference spoke of the problems of inequality – although perhaps this is more down to a fear of reprisals than a preoccupation with fairness. After all, last year saw a wave of protests against the super-rich, from Occupy Wall Street to UK Uncut.
Yet still the incomes of the top earners have risen faster than everyone else. In the US the richest fifth of the population controls about 85 per cent of the country's wealth. In December 2011 the OECD reported the gap between rich and poor was at its highest level for 30 years. The ignorance about how unequal our societies have become – and the effects of this - is shocking.
I’ve long been passionate about the role that film can play in creating social change, and the book immediately struck me as one of the most important social messages facing the developed world. I felt it was something that transcended political rhetoric - that everybody should be aware of this research into the woes of our modern developed societies.
Over the last few years, films like The Age of Stupid and An Inconvenient Truth tackled climate change, influencing both public opinion and policy. More recently, The End of the Line lifted the lid on the threat from over-fishing, and successfully changed both government and business policy. The same team are now behind The Spirit Level – and our aim is no less ambitious. We want to make a film that is talked and written about, that gets into cinemas and on our televisions, so millions can see it. And, most importantly, we want to achieve real, tangible change in policies and attitudes.
This month, we are launching our campaign both to raise awareness and funds for the film. We want as many people as possible to know we are making this film - to show just how much public support there is for the issue, to help us attract the money we need and to put pressure on politicians to move beyond lip-service to real policy change.
Financially, we are asking supporters to pre-buy the download of the film. If just 7,500 people worldwide paid £20, we will achieve our target. But it really isn’t all about money. This is a movement and a campaign and, regardless of how much cash you have, we want you to participate and spread the word about our message.
Here’s how you can help:
Sign up to our newsletter at www.thespiritleveldocumentary.com to find out more about the campaign as it progresses
TELL your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, students about this campaign.
SHARE through Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Spirit-Level-Documentary/315019558529617.
SHARE through Twitter @SpiritLevelDoc.
And please do email any thoughts you have for the film or campaign to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can make this happen.