In their stunning research first published in 2009, English researchers, Wilkinson and Picket, revealed the importance of inequality in influencing a wide range of phenomena, including crime and health levels. They found that more unequal countries had higher levels of a range of problems such as homicide, low life expectancy and drug addiction.
They did not claim that inequality was the only factor and accepted that absolute levels of poverty, cultural traditions with regard to, say, alcohol consumption and the quality of healthcare over previous decades, could vary things. That explains, for example, why the more unequal UK does better on the graph above than Portugal thanks to its NHS. However, there is a strong correlation overall, obvious in the above, with those more equal societies in Scandinavia, the Low Countries and Japan having lower levels of health and social problems.
A similar trend is now apparent in the mortality rate for coronavirus. Even in the case of China where the outbreak was triggered by old dietary traditions, the rate has now been pushed below that of the UK, by massive collective discipline. Look at the list of the countries with the lowest levels and compare it with the graph above:
The presence of the USA here does not, I fear, contradict the theory. The USA is a few weeks behind Europe and it’s millions of poor, unprotected by universal healthcare, face a fearsome prospect.
Nor does the position of Italy, with the highest level of coronavirus mortality in the World, yet a middling position on inequality, contradict the theory. Political errors in delaying a response to the outbreak condemned the people of Italy to this disaster. There are fears the UK government did not learn from them.
Footnote: Scotland’s coronavirus death rate at 2.8% or 28 per 1 000 puts her well below the UK rate of 5% or 50 per 1 000. Given comparable levels of inequality across the UK, it’s hard to see any other explanation that that our NHS is of a very hiogh standard indeed.