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Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Lit and Sci

Top doctor shows how we have lost a decade in health improvement

Speakers: Professor Sir Michael Marmot

World renowned epidemiologist Professor Sir Michael Marmot did not mince his words as he presented evidence to show how government policies have led to greater health inequalities in the UK.

"Since 2010, the rate of improvement in life expectancy has almost ground to a halt". Marmot was speaking to a packed meeting of the Hebden Bridge Literary and Scientific Society.

The enthusiastic audience identified completely with Marmot's obvious anger and frustration as he stressed how it was government policies that worsened health inequalities, and how an obsession with low taxation has meant that Britain now compares poorly with most other comparable countries.

The audience were presented with some shocking statistics. The poorest have been hit hardest by the austerity measures of the present government. Regional differences are minimal amongst the higher income groups, but pronounced amongst the poorest. In London a woman in the most deprived ten per cent of the population can expect to live four years longer than a similar woman in the North East.  Inequalities have been enhanced by the dramatic reductions in government support for local authorities since 2010, which have been most pronounced in the poorest councils. 

Child poverty levels in the UK ranked 31st amongst the richest 41 economies. Most European countries have higher rates of taxation, and spend much more on child care, education, health and public transport. Finland, for example, has a tax take of 52% of GDP, and France 51%, compared to only 36% in UK; yet the government sees lowering tax as a priority. Data shows that the ten percent poorest households would need to spend 74% of their disposable income on food to follow the NHS Eatwell Guide.  

The COVID pandemic has amplified  inequality in the UK, with Marmot's data showing the poorest 40% of the population experiencing a decline in life expectancy. In Greater Manchester the coronavirus death rate was 25% higher than the England average during the year to March, leading to "jaw-dropping" falls in life expectancy and widening social and health inequalities across the region over the past year. 

Questions from the audience

There were many questions from the audience; several commented that they were inspired by Professor Marmot's lecture.  

Asked how individuals can be engaged in reducing health inequalities, he said it was very difficult for individuals on their own. "Social change happens when people get together in social movements. Take action where you live".

Sir Michael said that it was not access to health care that causes health inequalities, but the conditions that make people sick in the first place.

Since his 2010 report, some local authorities have adopted the principles set by the UCL Institute of Health Equity and been declared Marmot Areas.

Coventry, Hackney and Tower Hamlets have all prioritised supporting families and early childhood spending, resulting in improved child health and educational attainment.

Local people and organisations were urged to get together to make Calderdale a Marmot area.

And the Lit&Sci Society’s website


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