Help us get The Spirit Level film to the finish line


A still from The Spirit Level film © The Spirit Level film

Income inequality has hit the headlines again with the publication of Thomas Piketty’s seminal Capital in the 21st Century, which gives a bleak forecast of extreme wealth and income concentration, discontent and the undermining of democracy itself.

The economic outcomes of rising inequality are indeed shocking. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which once saw it as the price to be paid for a functioning global economy, has woken up to what’s been happening with income distribution. Its new research shows inequality is destabilizing and damages growth.

However, it’s not just the economy that suffers when income and wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. It’s not just a question of market efficiency, but of morality. As we get ever richer in developed countries, how wide do we let the gap grow if the outcome is sick, miserable people? Is inequality, as Pope Francis recently said, ‘the root of all social evil’?

The meticulous research in The Spirit Level paints a convincing case that he may be right. Authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett examined 25 years of data to show how nearly all social ills – stress, poor educational performance, child wellbeing, violence, the decline of community – are more common in those societies with a big gap between rich and poor.

Of course, correlation doesn’t prove causation, but there’s good reason to believe the income gap is at root. Bigger income differences reduce social cohesion, and make us more inclined to see people as ‘other’. Our societies become tougher, more divided places in which to live.

It’s a powerful message, and many of us see the signs of it around us: in the demonization of the poor, rising levels of stress and consumer culture. This is why two years ago, I launched a crowdfunding campaign to get a documentary off the ground that would help to convey powerfully how excessive income differences impact on our wellbeing, our lives and the futures of our children. The response was phenomenal; it was clear this was an issue people cared about.

Since then, I’ve been working closely with communities across the world and across the income scale. I’ve met relatively rich people who were made to feel poor for not having the ‘right’ car, and families afraid to leave their homes after dark due to the violence on their streets, both perceived and real. From low to high income, what has struck me most was not how different people’s lives were, but how similar: worries over how we are judged, respect at work and in our communities, the pressure of making ends meet and giving the best to our children.

I’m often asked how we can make any change in an issue that seems so vast and entrenched. Well, we did not always live in a world with such vast inequities in income, and if a shift so big can occur in one direction, it is always possible to shift again in the other. The philosopher Anthony Appiah in The Honor Code eloquently speaks of the shifts in moral norms in such diverse issues as slavery, footbinding and duelling. By changing our attitudes, we can change the world.

I’ve long been passionate about the role that film can play in changing attitudes. From Cathy Come Home to An Inconvenient Truth, it can create emotional connections and reach people far beyond words on a page. We want The Spirit Level to be a film that achieves tangible change in policies and attitudes. As Richard Wilkinson says, ‘A better life is possible for us all.’

To support us:

This week we’re launching the final phase of our crowdfunding campaign, along with a new two-minute trailer. Watch and share it on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Pre-buy your copy of the film.

Support The Spirit Level Film!

Most of us can see in our daily lives how our world is beset with social problems: we’re stressed, mistrustful, our communities have eroded, crime is a constant problem, and the lives of growing numbers are dominated by despair and depression.

Some commentators have bemoaned our moral decline, blaming the laziness and criminality of those at the harsher end of the social scale. The perception is that all it would take to solve these problems is for the poor to pull themselves together, that anyone can be rich as long as they work hard. But is this really true?

The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, makes an arresting case to the contrary. It presents 25 years of meticulous research to show how nearly all social ills – stress, poor educational performance, child wellbeing, violence, unwanted teenage pregnancies – are more common in those societies with a big gap between rich and poor. What’s more, there are good reasons to believe these inequalities are at the root of our problems. At its simplest, bigger income differences reduce social cohesion and make all the problems of class and social hierarchy worse – not just for the poor, but for all of us.

The idea swept the globe between 2009 and 2011, gaining support from leaders of all political persuasions. British Labour leader Ed Miliband talks about ‘Spirit Level Britain’, President Obama claims inequality is the number one problem facing the US, and British Prime Minister David Cameron states that ‘deep poverty living side by side with great riches damages us all’. Even the world’s billionaires at the annual Davos Conference spoke of the problems of inequality – although perhaps this is more down to a fear of reprisals than a preoccupation with fairness. After all, last year saw a wave of protests against the super-rich, from Occupy to UK Uncut.

Yet still the incomes of the top earners have risen faster than everyone else – especially in the US, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Australia and Mexico. In the US, the richest fifth of the population controls about 85 per cent of the country’s wealth. In Britain, the richest 1 per cent have seen their share of income rocket from 7.1 per cent in 1970 to 14.3 per cent in 2005, while the incomes of the poorest have stood still. And in December 2011 the OECD reported that the gap between rich and poor was at its highest level for 30 years. The ignorance about how unequal our societies have become – and the effects of this – is shocking. There is no better time than now to address it.  

Creating social change

I’ve long been passionate about the role that film can play in creating social change, and this text immediately struck me as one of the most important social messages facing the developed world. I felt it was something that transcended political rhetoric, that everybody should be aware of this research into the woes of our modern developed societies.

Over the last few years, films like The Age of Stupid and An Inconvenient Truth tackled climate change, influencing both public opinion and policy change. More recently, The End of the Line lifted the lid on the threat from overfishing, and successfully changed both government and business policy. The same team are now behind The Spirit Level – and our aim is no less ambitious. We want to make a film that is talked and written about, that gets into cinemas and on our televisions, so millions can see it.  And, most importantly, we want to achieve real, tangible change in policies and attitudes.

Today, we are launching our campaign both to raise awareness and funds for the film. For six weeks only people will be able to visit our campaign page and support the film.

We want as many people as possible to help us to build a campaign for greater equality. We want people to know we are making this film – to show just how much public support there is for the issue, to help us attract the money we need to make it, and to put pressure on politicians to move beyond lip-service to real policy change. Together we can do for the public understanding of the ways inequality damages all of us what An Inconvenient Truth did for the public understanding of climate change.  A better life is possible for all of us.

Financially, we are asking supporters to pre-buy the download of the film. If just 2,500 people worldwide pay $20 (£12), we will achieve our target. And of course, it is possible to donate more. But it really isn’t all about money. This is a movement and a campaign and, regardless of how much cash you have, we want you to participate and spread the word about our message. So regardless of whether or not you can donate, please share the campaign page - on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

Here’s five ways you can help:

1. Share our campaign page here:

2. TELL your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, students about this campaign and share the page with them

3. SHARE the campaign page through Facebook

4. SHARE the campaign page through Twitter @SpiritLevelDoc

5. Sign up to our newsletter at to find out more about the campaign as it progresses.


And please do email any thoughts you have for the film or campaign to us at [email protected]

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