Richard is Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham Medical School, Honorary Professor at University College London, and Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of York. From 1976 onwards his career has focused on research into social class differences in health, the social determinants of health, and on the health and social effects of income inequality. His publications include books and research papers published from 1973 onwards. Early on, he drew attention to the tendency for a range of social problems to be exacerbated by wider income differences between rich and poor – a pattern which he first pointed out in a chapter of Class and Health which he edited in 1986 (re-issued summer 2022).
Always focussed on bringing the injustices of health inequalities to public attention, his books have been widely read. One became the basis of a TV documentary, The Great Leveller, and another a film, The Divide. He was one of the founders, and is now a Trustee of The Equality Trust. His first TED talk ‘How economic inequality harms societies’ has been watched over 4 million times, and his second, ‘The link between inequality and anxiety’ was viewed over 1.75 million times in the first few months of its release in 2021.
Richard left school after ‘O’ levels (now GCSEs) and started a mechanical engineering apprenticeship but soon abandoned it. Over a period of five or six years, he did ‘A’ levels at a technical college and a wide range of manual jobs (including garage work, building, decorating, machine operating). He also did periods of voluntary work in Britain and Algeria. His interpretations of data in his subsequent research have been informed by his experience in this period.
Richard’s first degree was in economic history and the philosophy of science at the London School of Economics. This was followed by an MA from the University of Pennsylvania in ‘regional science’ – techniques of regional economic analysis. After writing his first book, Poverty and Progress: an ecological model of economic development, published in 1973 and re-issued in 2022, he changed subject and did a two-year M.Med.Sci. in epidemiology at the University of Nottingham. Shocked by the largely unrecognised extent of health inequalities, Richard wrote a newspaper article addressed to David Ennals MP, then Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, pointing out that he presided over the largest social class difference in health on record and demanding he set up an urgent enquiry. This led, 3 months later, to the setting up of the working group which three years later produced the ‘Black Report’, on Inequalities in Health, the world’s first government-commissioned report on health inequalities. Its publication was the initial stimulus to modern research on health inequalities and the social determinaints of health round the world.
Richard received Solidar’s Silver Rose Award in 2013, Community Access Unlimited’s Humanitarian award in 2013, the Irish Cancer Society’s Charles Cully Memorial medal in 2014, and was The Australian Society for Medical Research’s medallist in 2017.