There’s nothing more important in life than health.
And at this general election there will be rightly much debate about the NHS, social care and the devastating impact of years of austerity on our treasured public services.
Yet amidst the sound and fury about specific spending pledges or individual policies, it’s useful to step back and look at the broader picture.
We are a deeply unequal society and our health reflects that. Our health inequalities are staggering and shameful.
We often talk about reducing regional inequalities, and at one level this is correct.
But comparing the Midlands to the North West or to the South East will only take you so far. Tackling intra-regional inequality is the issue.
Let’s take Lincoln as a case study. This cathedral town complete with historic Castle, famous (and aptly named) ‘Steep Hill’, university and countless attractive buildings is a popular tourist destination and desirable place to live.
2016 Public Health England (PHE) figures demonstrate that life expectancy is 7.4 years lower for men, and 8.2 years for women, in the most deprived of Lincoln than in the least deprived areas.
We can’t just snap our fingers or wish the problem the away.
In 2010, The Marmot Review (Fair Society, Healthy Lives) developed a strategy for reducing health inequalities. This review concluded action would be required across six policy objectives:
Furthermore, PHE point out that issues such as temporary work, insecurity, low pay, insufficient hours and a local of control in the workplace have a detrimental impact on health, whilst positive job and life satisfaction increases productivity and creativity and reduces sickness absence.
Unfortunately, in the years since the great economic crash we have seen government recoil from these objectives and, at worst, actively undermining them.
We desperately need a new approach and to recommit to these aims, testing all policies and spending decisions on their ability to reduce the scandal of health inequalities.
It’s fair to say that health visitors will be key to any serious attempts to support individuals and to address health inequalities in towns and cities like Lincoln in future years.
However, as a result of the massive spending squeeze imposed on our public services over the last decade there has been a 31% reduction in health visitor numbers since 2015 across England.
And, back in Lincolnshire, we are seeing this squeeze undermine the working conditions of health visitors themselves, with over 70 health visitors having taken industrial action in response to proposals from Lincolnshire County Council that could see them lose tens of thousands of pounds over their working lives.
The very staff who should be leading the charge against the scourge of health inequality instead find themselves undermined by a self-defeating spending squeeze that will, ultimately, only serve to heighten inequalities. The irony isn’t lost on anyone.
In fact, it kills.
Instead we need the next government to commit to Marmot – to quality public services, fairer working practices and a society that puts people first.
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