Speed Reading - Inequality

Britain’s richest 1 percent owns as much as the poorest 55 percent. In Equality and the 1% (Verso) Danny Dorling explores how being born outside the 1 percent affects not just educational and work prospects (people able to access “top” education gain an unfair advantage) but health and life expectancy (in 2013, 8,350 more elderly people died in Britain than in 2012 – “the prime suspect was austerity”). Dorling illustrates how the economy is effectively controlled by an elite determined to protect its interests. He advocates a slow revolution against “an overpaid and under achieving 1 percent…a non-violent war of attrition on concentrated wealth” which means “high taxes at high incomes”. Dorling offers many persuasive arguments, his impeccable research supported by useful stats and infographs.

Russell Brand also offers pertinent examples of untenable inequities in his own call for revolution. Already in the Bestseller lists, his book will inevitably reach a far wider and younger readership. While he freely admits that he is in Britain’s 1 percent, Brand makes many of the same points as Dorling – reminding us that worldwide, “the 85 occupants of the bejeweled bus of privilege” are better off than the poorest three and a half billion. The solutions proposed in Revolution (Century) are less clear and Brand's frequent digressions, namely to do with his personal fight with addiction, and occasional foul-mouthed rants, become irritating after a while.

Sans Papiers by Alice Bloch, Nando Sigona and Roger Zetter (Pluto) explores the experiences of young undocumented migrants who are at the bottom of the heap in Britain – isolated, their “cheap and flexible labour… easily exploitable”.  Sans Papiers gives them a voice and reveals the contradictions of harsh government policies designed to “regulate migration”.

All three books offer useful insights into inequality today and advocate a more compassionate society.

A shorter version of this review was originally published by The Tablet.