It is truly shocking that life expectancy has stalled in England, and for poorest women it has fallen. The Marmot Review: 10 years on published this week, shows us in detail how we have failed to improve on most of the indicators that were highlighted in the original review 10 years ago. It points out that this can be clearly linked to the lack of implementation of those evidence-based recommendations.
The report looks at five of the six domains that were used in the 2010 report:
- Give every child the best start in life
- Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control of their lives
- Create fair employment and good work for all
- Ensure a healthy standard of living for all
- Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities
- Strengthen the role and impact of ill health prevention
It is interesting that they chose not to look at the sixth domain, on the grounds that plenty has been written on this area since 2010, and review was not necessary. This will ensure that there is no opportunity for Government to respond with messages about what it done in this domain, while evidence shows this to be the least cost-effective approach, and hence should have been lowest priority for policy and action.
We know that the top priority should be our children and young people. It is very worrying that infant mortality has increased in the poorest families, that child poverty has increased and now stands at over 4 million. It shows how tax and benefits changes have been deeply regressive, pushing many families into the poverty trap. Knife crime is more common in those areas where youth services have been cut the most. A positive finding is that poor children appear to thrive better in poorer areas than in richer ones: either they are more socially excluded and stressed in affluent areas or that children and education services are doing something right in more deprived areas.
Income is a massively important determinant of health. This report highlights how work is good for health only if it is good quality work. So, although employment has increased, this isn’t enough for people to feel the benefits. The report notes that the average weekly earnings at 2015 prices were £502 in September 2019, only £5 higher than in 2008. The UK is one of only five of the 35 OECD countries where the purchasing power of the average wage has fallen since 2008. Since 2008 there has been a large reduction in benefits available for working age people and children. This, together with the rise in housing costs, has been the driver for huge increases in food bank use. The most deprived households would now have to use over 70% of their disposable income on food if they wanted to follow the Eatwell guide for healthy nutrition.
The report highlights social cohesion throughout, and describes forgotten communities:
“there are more areas of intense deprivation in the North, Midlands and in southern coastal towns than in the rest of England, whilst other parts of England have thrived in the last ten years, these areas have been left ignored. Since 2010 government spending has decreased most in the most deprived places and cuts in services outside health and social care have hit more deprived communities the hardest”
We welcome this report. It confirms the SHA conviction that austerity kills and that the policies of the Conservative-led governments since 2010 have directly led to a heavy burden of increased mortality, ill health and misery that is largely carried by the poor. The most effective actions should have been to address the wider determinants of heath rather than individual behaviour change. Polices have in fact done the opposite of this, including the Government Prevention Green Paper a year ago. This report shows how investment for most things that affect the wider determinants of health has instead been reduced in more deprived communities.
It would be of interest to compare the data collected here with similar analyses in the other devolved nations which have attempted to mitigate the impact of UK wide austerity policies from Westminster.
Prof Sir Marmot says:
‘If health has stopped improving, it’s a sign that society has stopped improving. When a society is flourishing, health tends to flourish’
The SHA realises that there is a very powerful lobby that will undermine this report and all the other emerging evidence, for political reasons. We know that this report will be challenged by those who support right wing policies, and its conclusions ignored by those with an agenda that doesn’t believe in equity.
We must do all we can to reach agreement again on what a flourishing society looks like. We must change and strengthen our democracy to be more accountable to the multiple views in our communities. The report says
“Our vision is of creating conditions for individuals to take control of their own lives. For some communities this will mean removing structural barriers to participation, for others facilitating and developing capacity and capability through personal and community development”
And as socialists, we believe that the state does have a crucial in protecting and improving the health of its people. For the last 10 years, our Government has been actively undermining the wellbeing of all but the most affluent.
 The Marmot Review; 10 years on, Institute of Health Equity http://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/the-marmot-review-10-years-on
 Fair Society, Healthy Lives, 2010 Institute of Health Equity http://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/fair-society-healthy-lives-the-marmot-review