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Health Inequalities A “Breach of Human Rights”. Time For a Shared UK Plan

One of Scotland’s leading clinicians has described the health inequalities between rich and poor as “a breach of human rights”, and calls today for a UK wide network to be established to tackle it.

Professor David Kerr, the chair of Our Scottish Future’s Health Commission, warns that the pandemic is likely to widen further the life expectancy gap between well off and deprived parts of the UK.

In a new report published today, he backs the creation of a network of “Marmot Cities” – named after Sir Michael Marmot, the pioneering London-based academic who has led work on the causes of health inequalities for more than thirty years.

Prof Kerr says that such a network should be coordinated from Glasgow, which has some of the widest health inequalities in the entire UK.

As set out in today’s report, life expectancy is now falling across the UK. Meanwhile, the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest is also rising to record levels: for men the figure has risen from 22.5 years in 2013-15 to 26 years in 2017-19.

The professor of cancer medicine at Oxford University, Prof Kerr comes originally from Maryhill in Glasgow, and was the author of the National Framework for Service Change in the NHS in Scotland, published by the Labour-led Scottish Executive in 2005.

Writing in the report today, Prof Kerr says: “The trends across the United Kingdom are worryingly clear: life expectancy is falling and health inequalities are on the rise. These are health policy failures of such magnitude that they represent a breach of human rights.”

He adds: “Sir Michael Marmot is one of our greatest thinkers in the field of reducing health inequalities and we have borrowed heavily on his work in our brief report. We advocate taking the principles which he has established over a distinguished career and taking these forward as a series of practical measures delivered by a devolved network of collaborating regions and cities, united by a common cause – namely to understand and resolve the challenges facing their citizens and to recover those lost years of life with focussed, evidence based multidisciplinary interventions.”

He continues: “We need a joined up policy approach that places collaboration above competition, collectivism over contention or narrow parochialism. We commend our report to policy makers of every hue, leaders of Nations, Regions and our great cities – let us come together with common aim and a commitment to share best practice that should know no barriers of geography or culture.”

The report recommends that:

  • The UK’s major cities join together in a UK wide network of Marmot Cities to drive down inequalities and place health and wellbeing back at the centre of civic politics.
  • Such a network sustains a new world-leading research body, bringing together Universities from each city region, to monitor and investigate the causes of and solutions to health inequality. The UK Government should fund this new body.
  • To demonstrate commitment to the communities it is designed to support, such a new institution could be based in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency which has the largest proportion of areas which are fall into the most deprived category – 62%.
  • Central Government in Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont should provide these cities and city regions with the controls and powers to act by devolving down control on health, employment services, housing, early years and education policies.
  • Marmot cities could also be encouraged to ‘twin’ with one another – with Glasgow and Liverpool providing two obvious examples

Prof Kerr will expand on his ideas in the second Our Scottish future podcast which will be released tomorrow.

The proposals have been backed by Labour MSP for Glasgow, Paul Sweeney.

He says today: “Cities across the UK and the wider world share many of the same challenges, particularly when it comes to health inequalities, and sharing lived experiences, challenges and solutions will be vital in the coming years.”

“Glasgow has long suffered from gross health inequalities and is often used as a case study when discussing the issue. We should be in no doubt that Covid-19 will exacerbate those inequalities and without decisive and comprehensive action, we will see life expectancy continue to stagnate and decline in certain demographics. Therefore, the suggestion that a world leading research body focused on monitoring the causes of these inequalities and suggesting solutions be established in Glasgow’s Maryhill and Springburn constituency is one that I warmly welcome.”

“The call for a network of Marmot Cities across the UK is long overdue. The scourge of health inequalities is vast and requires co-ordinated action cutting across numerous policy areas and the best chance we have of succeeding is by sharing resources and best practice. We cannot continue to see people pushed into poverty simply because of where they were born, and I would urge all governments across the UK to engage with these proposals seriously.”

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