In their book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone academics Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett lay out, with exhaustive reference to statistics from around the world, a very simple thesis: in countries or regions where the gap in income between the richest and poorest is narrow, people are happier, healthier, less obese, better educated, etc (the list of indices that correlate with income equality or inequality is remarkable). Living as we do so close to Scandanavia, for many of us their work doubtless provides evidence for what we know intuitively.
Unfortunately, Whitehall and Holyrood, fixated as they are on cuts, pay no more than lip-service to the policy implications of The Spirit Level. But officials and some councillors within the SIC have grasped the notion and this week councillors considered an excellent, if disturbing report by Emma Perring which showed that despite Shetland’s reputation as a wealthy place a third of households are affected by fuel poverty, a large subset of poverty more generally.
Her idea of a cash scheme – which the Shetland Charitable Trust is now to be asked to help fund – is sound, and hopefully some of the other reforms agreed by councillors, along with the national scheme currently running, will help to tackle the appallingly high number of houses with poor or moderate energy ratings.
In the longer run, if Shetland is to have the Viking Energy windfarm, it is imperative that trustees agree in advance that a proportion of the much-trumpeted likely profit is earmarked for dealing with this problem. As a society we should be judged on how we treat our poorest and less able members.