Is social harm preventable?

Simon PembertonEvery year thousands of adults and children in the UK die or are injured as a result of preventable events. For example, over 18,000 (England and Wales) people die as a result of excess winter deaths, 29,000 lives are ended prematurely from air pollution and another 13,000 (Great Britain) from occupational lung disease and cancers contracted via the workplace. Far from being 'natural' or inevitable events, such harms are avoidable.

In a new book 'Harmful Societies: Understanding social harm', Simon Pemberton, an expert on social harm, compares rates of social harms across 31 OECD countries. Looking at measures such as suicide, road traffic injuries, obesity, poverty, long working hours, unemployment and social isolation, he finds that similarly placed capitalist societies vary greatly in their ability to protect populations from these harms. He shows how harm is not inevitable, but rather a product of the way we choose to organise the societies in which we live.

Simon Pemberton said, "The social harms I describe in this book are the result of the way we chose to organise our societies. There is no 'natural' rate of death from the cold, from road traffic injuries, from obesity or 'inevitable' about rates of poverty, financial insecurity or social isolation."

Pemberton reveals that Social Democratic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark) according to a range of indicators appear to be the least harmful capitalist societies, closely followed by Northern Corporatist (including Germany, France, Austria). In contrast, Neo-Liberal (Chile, Mexico, Turkey, Russia) and Liberal societies (including UK, US, Australia) are amongst the most harmful.

In close proximity to the United Kingdom there are countries that are much better than our own at preventing premature death and other harms. Harmful Societies challenges politicians and their advisers to learn the lessons of countries that are similar in so many ways, so that practical policies can be developed to reduce unnecessary and preventable harms.

Harmful Societies: Understanding social harm, is available from Policy Press, University of Bristol

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