For those familiar with Danny Dorling’s work, this book will not necessarily present anything new, but it pulls together a selection of his work on social justice in Britain in a comprehensive and accessible way. Fair Play is a collection of articles, research projects and lecture transcripts arranged alongside stories, statistics and facts and figures.
Starting with the unlikely subject of murder, and going through questions of race, education, employment and housing, Dorling goes on to systematically explode the greatest myths about inequality. Each section begins by considering how these myths are presented as common sense and then presents a thorough (and at times bewildering) array of statistics, graphs and maps in order to show us that social injustice is deeply ingrained in British society, gets worse under Tory governments and in recessions, and failed to improve under New Labour.
Dorling succeeds in two ways. Firstly, he presents a huge amount of information in a relatively accessible way. It is very hard to argue with the facts he lays out, as every claim he makes is backed up by cross-referencing and thorough analysis. At the same time, the figures and graphs are interspersed with stories of real people – and often the reader is encouraged to examine their own relationship to the statistics. Secondly, he manages to connect a diverse array of research by linking the manifestations of inequality with its root causes in poverty, and makes very concrete arguments throughout for policy changes that would improve the situation.
For example, to challenge unemployment, he specifically argues for a modern equivalent of the New Deal, “good quality apprenticeships, permanent publicly funded jobs, and more highly valued education”.
However, despite the wealth of material, the book does not engage seriously with the structural and political roots of inequality. The picture Dorling paints of a divided, unequal, miserable Britain is no doubt an accurate one, and the recommendation that we should change the priorities of society away from making the rich richer towards a more equal distribution of wealth and opportunity is sensible. But there is very little focus on how this is to be achieved, and who will bring about these changes.
There is an explicit rejection of Tory values running through the book, and an appeal for the Labour Party to return to old-Labour and Keynesian policies, but Dorling’s disillusionment with Labour’s record is hard to square with these hopes.
Overall, however, this is a useful reference book with interesting angles on familiar questions and a wealth of information. Dorling persuasively presents the argument that Britain is becoming more and more divided and unequal, and provides food for thought for anyone concerned with challenging social injustice.
Fair Play is published by Policy Press , £19.99
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