Finland's 'egalitarian' example remains a foreign concept

12th February 2010 at 00:00

The article on schools in Finland made the point that "people trust each other" ("No simple task for the UK to Finnish what it's started", February 5). As was made clear, Finland is a relatively egalitarian society among the world's rich countries.

In their book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better? Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett present their analysis of data from some 20 of the richest countries in the world and from each of the 50 states of the US.

Specifically, the authors analyse a range of social outcomes against levels of income equality. Their findings are that those rich countries with high levels of income inequality, such as the US, Portugal and the UK, perform less well on a range of key quality of life criteria than countries such as Japan and Finland where the level of income inequality is substantially lower.

As well as levels of trust, the social criteria studied include educational failure, violence, mental illness, teenage births, life expectancy, obesity, homicide and imprisonment rates. In more equal rich societies people at all income levels fare better on these criteria than they do in less equal rich ones.

As long as the current levels of income inequality in the UK continue, the conclusion of the article that the Finnish model is inimitable will hold true.

However, the positive message from Wilkinson and Pickett's research is that we would all, including the rich, benefit from the healthier society that a more egalitarian income distribution fosters. There is an urgent need to develop bold, corrective policies to deal with socially damaging income inequality.

For teachers, it would be a relief to work in a system where professionals trusted each other and where parents trusted professionals, and vice versa. The savings from the then largely redundant accountability regime could be available to improve overall resourcing.

Geoff Holmes, Secretary, NASUWT Northumberland branch, and co-ordinator, The Equality Trust North-East Group.

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