The current economic crisis has thrown my book, Eliminating Poverty in Britain into sharp focus, but in reality, the need to deal with the cost-of-living in our society has always been there and especially since the 2008 Global Financial Crash.
I find books fascinating when they consider where capitalism could go next and the future of our planet, and I have read many of them to inform my work. I have also read books which look at the issue of inequality from a psychological, biological and social perspective.
Here are a few that I found really interesting:
- Don't Let my Past Be Your Future. A Call to Arms by Harry Leslie Smith (Constable, 2017). Out of all the books that I have read, this one really got under my skin. Smith died a year after the book was published. He was born in 1923 and lived through the Great Depression, the Second World War and the creation of the welfare state. The description of his childhood is so detailed that it affords the reader a glimpse into a past which is rarely discussed from a child's perspective. Some of his memories are unforgettable and disturbingly similar to today, such as when a teacher provided him with a pair of shoes to enable him to finish his basic education. Teachers in Britain today are doing the same thing for their students in poverty. It is a telling reminder that for all the technological advances of the 21st century, our social mobility remains painfully slow.
- Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration - and why it's good for the plant, the economy, and our lives by Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography, Oxford University (Yale University Press, 2020). Dorling explains how the age of perpetual growth is coming to an end and that we should welcome the current slowdown in population growth, economies and technological innovation. Dorling suggest that a non-expanding world will be better for everyone, with less inequality and less environmental damage.
- The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Allen Lane, 2009). This book is heavy on statistics and substance, and in doing so it is able to draw weighty conclusions which describe the effect that inequality has on societies, including the erosion of social trust, increasing anxiety and illness and encouraging excessive consumption. It is an international best-seller and has prompted many politicians to take the issue of inequality more seriously.
- The Inner Lever: How more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and improve everyone's well-being by Kate Pickett and Richard G. Wilkinson (Penguin, 2019). A sequel to The Spirit Level, this book takes a deeper look at how inequality affects us individually and how it alters how we think, feel and behave.
- Climate Justice by Mary Robinson (Bloomsbury, 2018) Robinson is the former President of Ireland and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In her book, she discusses the need for government action to mitigate the affects of a low-carbon economy on local communities that are reliant on fossil fuels for employment. The link between poverty and climate change is described on a global level. In Eliminating Poverty in Britain, it is discussed in detail at the national level.
- Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain's Underclass by Darren McGarvey (Luath, 2017) Winner of the Orwell Prize, 2018. The book draws on McGarvey's own experiences of growing up in poverty in Glasgow and from the testimonies of people in deprived communities around Britain. He argues that both the left and the right of politics misunderstand the complexity of poverty as it is experienced by those living in it on a daily basis. He also considers the "poverty industry" and the idea that many people's jobs rely on the perpetuation of poverty in Britain.
- Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (Penguin, 2017). This may seem an unusual topic to include when discussing inequality, but the affect that poverty and stress have on our sleep patterns directly affects our performance at work, our mental and physical health and our relationships. Walker has a very easy writing style and explains complex neurological conditions and experiments in a comfortable way. If you don't have time to read the book, Walker has a TED Talk on YouTube which covers the basics and explains why it is important for everyone to get a good night's sleep. He starts with testicles....
- When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Gabor Maté (Penguin, 2019). I should say now that I am a big fan of Maté work. His online videos are well worth a watch. In this book, he discusses the link between the mind and the body, and especially the role that stress and our emotional predisposition have on our susceptibility to diseases. He quashes the idea that the workings of the body and mind are independent of each other. This may seem obvious, but successive British governments have valued the NHS' work on mental health differently to physical health, and his book shows how important it is that this preconception is changed for good.
- Make Brilliant Work by Rod Judkins (2021). Judkins is a lecturer at Central Saint Martin's in London, one of the world's leading art schools. He works hard to encourage his students to think differently so they can produce fresh and exciting work. Our society values innovative thinking and this book helps the reader to understand how creative people who have reached the top of their fields actually started out. In summary: everyone does it differently, so learn from others and then find your own path!