Danny Dorling is one of Britain’s leading social thinkers. Ahead of his visit to Leeds next month he talked to Chris Bond about the need for a change in our political vision.
In his latest book, A Better Politics, Professor Danny Dorling set out to inspire a better politics in this country, one that would allow future generations to be happier.
This wasn’t based on a fanciful ideological wish list but through harnessing existing policies that already exist in other countries. His books was published shortly before the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory, which he, like many commentators, hadn’t expected.
The notion of creating a better politics is one he will present when he gives the annual Leeds Beckett University politics lecture next month. Dorling is Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at Oxford University and an influential political thinker and argues that the seismic political shocks we have seen in Britain and the US are in a large part down to the fact that both have a growing gulf between the richest and poorest.
“2015 saw the biggest increase in mortality rates amongst elderly people since 1940 in the Uk - and in the US it’s even worse,” he says. “The UK is one of the worst countries in Europe in terms of economic equality and the US is the most unequal country in the West.
“The problem is it’s now affecting people who are better off than the average person. Parents look at their children and can’t see how they will be able to afford to buy their own house.
“In the past, inequalities meant 30 to 40 per cent of people were still better off but now you’ve got to be in the top half of the top 10 per cent. For the rest, things aren’t looking too good.”
The financial crash of 2008 has had a huge impact with Britain having experienced the biggest fall in GDP per capita since the Second World War. He says we have chosen to tax and spend far less than almost any other country in Europe apart from Ireland.
He also points out that public spending lags behind many of our European neighbours. “I am surprised people do not know that we fund our national health service at half the rate that the Swiss fund their public health services per head, or that we spend 43 per cent less than Germany.”
Dorling says the Brexit vote and Trump’s election are a sign that people are frustrated and feel the political system isn’t working. Though he points out we’re already seeing some changes. “Disastrous government polices such as ‘help to buy’ were scrapped this month. The ‘pay to stay’ in social housing policy was abandoned in November. And this is just in housing.
“However, we have a huge way to go if we are to even try to emulate the living standards of an average Western European country. And first we need to know how much worse we do in education, health and housing than most other Europeans do, and that none of these problems are a result of immigration.
“In fact without continued immigration, it will become much harder to staff our schools, hospitals and care homes and to build those homes that we do need. A great deal needs to change.
It will most probably change slowly, one policy and election at a time, many things will get worse; but when it comes to economic inequality they can only get better - because it is not possible to do worse than be the most economically unequal country in Europe.”
Dorling argues that health and happiness are crucial to the wellbeing of any society but are often overlooked by politicians. “What matters most to people is their health and happiness and that of those around them but it’s something we underestimate.”
Danny Dorling’s lecture takes place at Leeds Beckett’s city centre Rose Bowl building starting at 6pm on January 12. For tickets for the free event go to https://abetterpolitics.eventbrite.co.uk.