A new politics for health: the Birmingham Health Charter, November 23

Inequality kills - even Theresa May admits it. This November sees the launch of a new movement to prevent ill health - a movement that's not afraid to take on vested interests.

Sue Laughlin
21 October 2016

Image: Flickr/Joe13

While policy makers and pundits agonise about the future of the NHS a glaring injustice is side-lined. This is the injustice of health inequalities. Inequalities in health are no accident. They are the result of a failure right across the breadth of public policy. We know what causes them, we know what we need to do to put them right.

Thousands of words have been written and uttered about this disgrace. Even Theresa May told us in her opening speech as Prime Minister that she was committed to fighting the “burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier” than average - and indeed, you will die 25 years earlier than the very richest in our society.

But still these inequalities persist – and they are no longer acceptable.

We need a new politics for health to right this injustice – a politics that takes into account all the factors that contribute to good health.

Without it, the political and economic effects of Brexit will add to the negative impacts of ‘austerity’ and social security reform, and significantly increase health inequalities.

Now, this November, the Politics of Health Group (PoHG), along with Birmingham City University and The Equality Trust, is kick starting a public health campaign for policies that reduce health inequalities.

Thirty years ago, the World Health Organisation created a landmark international agreement – the Ottawa Charter - as a framework for nations to actively improve the health of their citizens. The Ottawa Charter highlighted the true prerequisites for health: peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable ecosystem, sustainable resources, social justice and equity. And it highlighted how to promote health, action was needed in five key areas: promoting healthy public policy, creating supportive environments, strengthening community action, developing personal skills, and re-orienting health services towards the prevention of illness and promotion of health.

Action on these themes is just as necessary today. To improve the nations’ health, we need significantly different economic and industrial policies, that redistribute wealth and ensure fair work that isn’t dangerous or exploitative. We need a change of attitude to social security so that claimants and those who use public services are not seen as scroungers and that people realise that poverty is something that many people are likely to experience in their lifetimes.

And we need a government willing to tackle the vested interests behind some of the health problems we see today. The recent childhood obesity strategy is a case in point – May caved in to the food industry, relying on its goodwill to reduce sugar, unhealthy fat and salt in food rather than imposing taxes, banning promotions of unhealthy food and restricting advertising.

The Politics of Health Group (PoHG) has been campaigning for over 30 years for policies which would be beneficial for health for all and to raise awareness of the negative impact of poor policy making.

Four regional meetings in Sheffield, Birmingham, London and Chester have shown there’s a clear appetite for action. The findings from these meetings will be fed into a national event at Birmingham City University on 23rd November where we hope to set the ball rolling for real change.

This event has been designed as a working event where we intend to produce a new charter which both embraces the strengths of the Ottawa Charter and recognises changes that have occurred over the past 30 years. We will also debate and plan for action to promote the Charter and its component actions, to strengthen the movement for better and more equal health.

As Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson have illuminated so effectively in their book, The Spirit Level; Why Equality is Better for Everyone, unequal societies are not just unjust – they are unhealthy societies for everyone.

We are delighted Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (who founded the Equality Trust) will be joining us at our conference, along with John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health and by Anuj Kapilashami from the People’s Health Movement.

Please join us, and please spread the word! You can find further details of the programme and book a place by following this link: NP4H Event.

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