Call For Action On Tackling Health Inequality In Scotland

20 September 2017, 06:25


Calls have been made to introduce a "minimum wage for healthy living" and a more "progressive" tax system as part of an effort to tackle health inequality across Scotland.

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) in Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to increase action against poverty in communities.

In the publication Healthy Lives, Fairer Futures, the body sets out eight priorities to ensure everyone has an equal chance of a long and healthy life.

Josie Murray, FPH advocacy lead in Scotland, said: "From children growing up in poverty to families struggling to heat their house in the winter because their benefits have been cut, inequality affects every aspect of people's lives - and that has a direct impact on their health and wellbeing.

"We're looking forward to working in closer partnership with other charities and organisations and together fighting for a fairer Scotland because we believe that every person deserves the best chance of a healthy life.

"That's why we're calling on the Scottish Government to make sure that any new laws impact positively on people's health or wellbeing, and to deliver on their manifesto commitment to make a greater impact in tackling health inequalities."

The key actions identified by the body include making health a part of all policy-making in Scotland, making taxation more "progressive" to reduce inequalities, as well as bringing in a "minimum wage for healthy living".

Other priorities include mitigating the impacts of welfare reform on the most vulnerable, increasing investment in integrated public transport and active travel as well as preventing harmful childhood experiences.

The body also called on the Scottish Government to reduce child poverty and mitigate its adverse impacts, and to use the Community Empowerment Act to improve people's mental health.

As part of the research, FPH members in Scotland were asked to identify threats to public health where more action could lead to a significant improvement.

Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: "Today's publication highlights the need to improve the social and economic conditions in which people live in order to tackle poor health.

"It is important to ensure that patients are treated in the most appropriate setting, at the right time, and cared for by the right person. Therefore work to address inequalities and deprivation combined with investment in prevention may help to reduce the burden on both hospitals and general practice in Scotland."

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said: "We welcome the faculty's calls for greater action to eradicate health inequalities, and to tackle them at their causes.

"Since 2013, we have spent more than £350 million to protect our poorest households from the very worst effects of UK welfare cuts - a significant amount, which would be much better invested in anti-poverty measures.

"We have repeatedly warned that the UK Government's chaotic roll-out of universal credit, particularly the unreasonable six-week wait for first payment, is having an adverse impact on people.

"We urgently call for the UK Government to listen to the real-life impact of their policies and immediately halt its roll-out, or risk pushing more households into hardship. This, of course, has very real repercussions on people's health."

A DWP spokeswoman said: "Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and ensuring the system is fair to those who use it and those who pay for it. The best way to help people improve their living standards is to help them into work, and under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system.

"We are rolling out Universal Credit in a gradual, safe and secure way and the majority of people are managing their budgets well, meanwhile the Scottish Government now has significant welfare powers including flexibility over Universal Credit payments."

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, welcomed the launch of a "call to action" on health inequalities.

He said: "This 'call to action' from the nations public health experts makes absolutely clear that living wages, progressive taxation and investment in social security are all absolutely vital to reducing poverty and protecting children's health and well being.

"It's vital that government at every level now acts on their recommendations and that Scottish Ministers use every tool in their toolbox, including powers to top up UK benefits, to boost family incomes."