Inequality, health & the credit crunch.

“life expectancy here in London falls by one year for every underground station you stop at from Westminster to Canning Town”

(Gordon Brown 2008)

I am looking forward to reading “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett which was published at the start of March. Wilkinson has a long track record of studying and drawing attention to the effect that inequalities may have on public health.  Most famously, Wilkinson’s work played an important role in the development of the report into health inequalities that came to be known as the Black report. This link has a good account of the history behind the Black report as well as the then government’s rather un-enthusiastic reaction to it’s conclusions. 

Despite the fact that we have long had good evidence suggesting that inequality has a powerful effect upon health I would argue that usually, nothing very much is done about it. Usually the most prominent Public health messsage is of the “take care of yourself” variety i.e. Five portions fruit & veg, don’t smoke, drink too much, get fat etc etc.  Whilst there is nothing wrong in suggesting that people look after themselves the argument has always been that this “look after yourself” message is pushed by Governments in preference to actually doing anything concrete about structural inequalities in society. I wonder what difference our recent economic woes & the credit crunch will make to this argument?

We have seen an awful lot of argument and anger over executive pay and bonuses for bank bosses. Whilst I think it is a bit simplistic to blame everything upon these people, I do think it is good that some light has been shone onto this sort of thing & that debate has been started about greed in society. 

Am I being naive in wondering whether some good might eventually come out of this current crisis? – Wilkinson’s book (above) is one of a few things (or this) I have noticed recently that are trying to discuss this issue. I predict that this forthcoming report by Micheal Marmot into health inequalities  which is due in December will get quite a lot of attention. I suppose we will have to wait and see what difference any of this makes.

In the meantime, I will answer my own question – I suspect it is naive to imagine that anything will change – the economy will eventually pick up, the rich will continue to get rich & the poor become poorer & all this will get forgotten about again? – or will it- what do you think?
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