BOOK REVIEW: Shattered Nation: Inequality and the Geography of a Failing State

23rd October 2023 / United Kingdom
BOOK REVIEW: Shattered Nation: Inequality and the Geography of a Failing State

Many of those previously just-coping can no longer cope’ – is a statement in the first chapter of this fascinating book as Danny Dorling testifies as to why the nation is ‘shattered’ by identifying the wrong path willingly taken by every successive UK administration since Thatcher, leading to increased inequality and devastating poverty for many – writes Mo Stewart.

With personal observations of the negative changes in his Oxford home city over the past forty years, and by visiting areas across the UK, Dorling expertly demonstrates how successive administrations devoted to profit, not people, constantly adopted policies to favour the rich regardless of human consequences which inevitably made the poor poorer. The fabric of society was transformed by Margaret Thatcher’s right-leaning ideology (1979–90) and was continued by every successive administration, as the past moral compass of distant administrations was abandoned with a government now so far to the right that it has identified the UK as being the most unequal country in Europe.

There is no stone left unturned in this book, which is a page-turner, demonstrating how every element of society was negatively impacted over the years by a devotion to cost, not care, as the five giants of poverty were first identified in the 1940s by the Beveridge Report ‘are returning in new forms’ to justify what are morally reprehensible social policies devoted to ideology which have ‘shattered’ those in greatest need in a once great nation. Dorling devotes a chapter to the human geography of each of the identified five new giants of squalor which are hunger, precarity, waste, exploitation, and fear – as now all found in C21st UK which joins Bulgaria as being ‘jointly top’ in the OECD league table of inequality in Europe.

The book is a roadmap of the preventable harm created by successive right-leaning UK administrations who objected to rising welfare costs which are guaranteed to increase over time with an ageing population. Successive administrations adopted unethical social policies to successfully intimidate the chronically ill and disabled community from claiming disability benefits as policies recreated the ideology of the ‘poor laws’ from past centuries, insisting that anyone living in poverty only has themselves to blame. The so-called minimum wage are essentially poverty wages, which people can’t survive on, and their increasing debt and poverty are of little interest as successive administrations accept no responsibility for the destitution now experienced by so many as they ‘use hunger to control others’, and the UK remains distant from most of Europe when conducting welfare management. Dorling also identifies the fact that – ‘a state shatters when greed is put on a pedestal. Never a truer statement was ever made.

He goes into great detail when comparing the size of the decline of various industries especially in the twenty years between 1999 and 2019. He highlights the drop in various trades, together with the impact on the housing market and increases in the rental market, and all this happened long before the negative impact of the pandemic with the exploitation of the workforce as ‘far more of those workers are now paid less than their predecessors and often have to work longer hours’. Dorling also identifies the business activities which have grown the most since 1999, which include personal service activities such as dry cleaning and hairdressing, with an emphasis on the increase in the number of funeral parlours.

The book’s content stresses the inequality that dominates UK society, the devotion to profit and greed and the failure to recognise ‘what matters most’. ‘Everything is judged in financial terms or by tick-box targets that devalue what is truly worthwhile and what actually adds to the greater good’.

Dorling identifies the fear people now live with, the impact on mental health and life expectancy on those in greatest need since austerity measures were adopted, and the increasing feelings of ‘shame, self-blame, isolation, fear and guilt’, with an identified disturbing increase in the suffering of the poor from previous generations in ‘the unexpected return of some of the diseases of Beveridge’s day: ricketts, polio and tuberculosis’. There is also concern expressed at the identified amount of private providers creeping into the NHS as ‘in the richest parts of the UK, a quarter of all NHS care was being provided by private hospitals and private providers’. Indeed, ‘between 2015 and 2019 the value of private sector NHS contracts increased by 89 per cent’. It is chilling to note Dorling’s observation that from ‘being above all other large European countries for life expectancy in the 1950s, the UK dropped below the rest of Western Europe by 2021’.

This book is a catalogue of disquiet as it identifies the consequences of various policies adopted over the years which have negatively impacted all aspects of human need including housing, food poverty, social policies, mental health, utilities, homelessness, water, education, transport, the NHS, and excessive rent and mortgage increases, which all contribute to the infringement of quality of life imposed by successive right-leaning administrations, which is why the once great UK is correctly identified by Dorling as being a ‘shattered’ nation.

Mo Stewartis a former healthcare professional and a disabled veteran of the (W)RAF medical branch. Since 2009 she has been the research lead for the Preventable Harm Project, which exposed the influence of corporate America with UK social policy reforms, with the ultimate political ambition to replace the welfare state with private income replacement health insurance.

Buy the book ‘SHATTERED NATION’ by Danny Dorling


Verso Books 2023
ISBN-13: 978-1-80429-327-0

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