The challenge of trying to reverse inequality is something which came up in a number of  the sessions I sat in on at the Hay Festival.

Richard Layard, for example, talked about the way in which inequality loosens the bonds of co-operation between people and society. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book The Spirit Level is on the agenda too – which is a comprehensive and evidence-base demolition of the idea that inequality benefits societies in any way.

Their argument, indeed, is that rather than deal with crime, ill health and poor education through targeted programmes, we would do better to create a more equal society, as this feeds through to better outcomes in each of these domains.

It may be a mistake though to view inequality as an economic issue, because at root, our tolerance for inequality is a cultural issue and one that in many ways is supported and sustained by the commercial world around us.  Be yourself, step out from the crowd, get ahead…

It is certainly a good time for rethinking our economy, but if we want a more equal world, then we need a cultural revolution and not simply a different economic fix.

Common sense on crisps

Wonderful verdict on whether Pringles should be classified as crisps for the purposes of VAT.

102390_1In the face of a mountain of documents on the technical nature of potato and savoury snacks, the judge confirmed that the key test was whether children as consumers would think of them as crisps.

They do!

Hug a traffic warden

Meet Helen, wSL380562ho has perhaps the most revolutionary idea in the world. I talked to her at a roundtable in Birmingham this week on local authority services (please excuse my low photography skills). Her idea, which she is getting going at the new, one-month old unitary authority Cheshire West, is to get traffic wardens to do something that the public care about.

All local authorities have people doing ‘regulatory’ work, like environmental health, trading standards and parking. Helen’s attempt at revolution is to persuade people like traffic wardens to check out dodgy dealers and sharp practices by traders as they head around town.

Could we ever really love traffic wardens? Could they ever not hate us?

We will have to watch Cheshire West.

50% increase in hair dye sales

This fact was one cited by Andy Bond of ASDA, who delivered what I hear was a great lecture yesterday evening for the British Retail Consortium. Consumers are moving, he says from a ‘do it yourself’ to a ‘create it yourself’ mentality – hair dyes and food recipes included. Price comparison and review websites are “changing many businesses today, forever. Customers are shaping businesses rather than businesses shaping customers”.

There is a good report here on the retail bulletin.

The viewer and listener

mixI have met the team behind Voice for the Viewer and Listener, which is one of those brilliant outfits that have done an amazing job for consumers over the years but are run on a thin and thinning shoe string. Ivor Gaber, Richard Lindley (Chair) and Melanie Howard are all big hitters though and their key campaign coming up is on public service broadcasting.

Put simply, traditional regional news is dying and unless we recast public service broadcasting, the BBC will end up as a sole and monopoly provider. Surely, some diversity is needed, whether for consumer choice or for democracy?