IN MY role as an Assembly Member people very often tell me how concerned they are about the inequality and unfairness which blights our society.

And as environment minister in the Labour Welsh Government it is good to be part of an administration with social justice as its driving force, doing what we can to protect the most vulnerable at this very difficult time for the economy and public finances.

Growing up locally in Pill, I remember as a young boy being conscious of how much poorer it seemed than some other parts of Newport. Today there are still unacceptably wide gaps in standards of living and quality of life from one area to another.

We all know that some parts of our city have higher rates of unemployment, lower incomes, worse housing, poorer health and lower educational attainment.

Many of the people who work full-time are on low wages and struggle with all the problems that poverty causes.

But the scourge of inequality doesn’t just hurt those living in the poorest areas or on the lowest wages. In 2009, a book called The Spirit Level was published which looked at social statistics in many countries, and measured them against how unequal each country was.

The authors, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, showed how societies that are more equal have lower crime, better education, generally better health and have more trust in each other. It’s not just the very poorest who are happier in more equal societies; everyone gains.

In difficult economic times like today’s it’s important that we don’t ignore these lessons. A widening gap between rich and poor will harm us all.

In the Welsh Government we are playing our part by trying to protect the most vulnerable. We have prioritised our policies and budgets to safeguard services and help those most in need.

If we want a healthier and happier society we must care more about the gap between the haves and the have-nots. I first began to understand that as a primary school boy in Pill, and I am now more sure of it than ever.