iNews: Ten years of bad policy have destroyed Britain’s health, yet we’re still arguing among ourselves
Imagine if health and social care and welfare were approached with the same public enthusiasm and gaping purse strings as garden bridges and high-speed rail vanities?
National government has been entirely inactive on the issue of inequality for the past decade, yet it has been left to underfunded local authorities, the generosity of charities and the third sector, and struggling communities themselves to try to address some of the causes of poor health in Britain.
One in five children in this country, today, will go to bed hungry. The impact of continual hunger on long term health is well known. Children are growing up malnourished, and are likely to die earlier as a result.
A health inequality gap will not close if the Government continues to ignore its underpinning social determinants; housing, education, sufficient food provision and employment all have a role to play in supporting our all-round physical health, let alone the ticking grenade that deprivation and trauma plant in our mental wellbeing. The long term impact of austerity ideology and the resulting inequality chasm is only just starting to become evident, and the evidence should horrify and alarm us all.
It is the primary role of the NHS to deal with the symptoms of poor health, not the causes. Where long term illness and disease is exacerbated by a combination of Conservative policies that are openly hostile to the most vulnerable groups in our society, it is surely the responsibility of that Government to recognise the correlation between their actions – and indeed inaction – accept accountability, and seek to make amends.
If not for a moral cause, that everyone should have the right to safe and decent housing, employment and welfare assistance regardless of personal status or contribution, then for an economic one. Money scrimped and scraped out of health and social care support today is a desperately false economy that will end up costing us as a country. And by that I mean each and every one of us as taxpayers, several times over in the years to come as we seek to heal the damage done to hundreds of thousands of minds and bodies in the name of a falsely fiscal ideology.
The destructive path that Covid-19 wreaked throughout our communities over the last 21 months has been felt most deeply by the poorest. Food bank queues are longer than ever, with disproportionate representation among people with disabilities, single mothers, and the underemployed. Despite the fact that the general population’s awareness of public health is at an all-time high, how does the Government remain seemingly ignorant of the fact that they govern a nation with one of the most inequitable public health records in Europe?
As a new report launched by Professor Sir Michael Marmot and Public Policy Projects demonstrates, the government has continually ignored taking action on the drivers of poor health including housing, food provision and warmth.
When food banks first came into the mainstream public consciousness eight years ago, their existence was front-page news, and rightly so in one of the wealthiest economies in the world. Now the need for them is 20 times greater than it was, and instead of nationwide outrage, we have apolitical jolly collection boxes at the end of every supermarket checkout. Feeding our neighbours because they are going hungry as a result of cuts and changes to benefits, zero-hour contracts, insecure employment, poverty wages, has become part of the background of our everyday, the stiff upper lip that refuses to ask the awkward questions as to why one in 12 people are below the poverty line. It’s as inherently British as cups of strong tea and our collective misguided patriotism around our national sports.
Instead of the grim tabloid sport of scrutinising individuals for the size of their television or number of children, it’s time to turn that laser focus of accountability back onto our Government, and ask why some people face life-limiting illnesses, mental health challenges, preventable diseases, and eventual premature death, simply for being born in the wrong postcode. It’s not hyperbolic to say that many, many people have died as a result of being ignored or abused by this Government’s purse strings – and it has to stop. Again, for economic reasons as well as fundamentally moral ones, the Government needs to act to close the poverty and inequality gaps with all the resources at their disposal, and quickly.
Imagine if health and social care and welfare were approached with the same public enthusiasm and gaping purse strings as garden bridges and high-speed rail vanities? Nobody should suffer hunger for a single day in this country; for that hunger to cause decades of subsequent suffering is an injustice so staggeringly enormous it sounds fantastical. But it isn’t. David Cameron, then Theresa May, then Boris Johnson have all promised that theirs would be a Government that works for everybody. It’s a line they’ve parroted for over a decade with very little substance or scrutiny – it’s time they delivered on it. Starting with those for whom it absolutely hasn’t been working for, or at least those of them that are still somehow surviving the swingeing cuts and shredding of the fabric of society.
One person losing their life to austerity ideology is a tragedy, one hundred thousand starts to look suspiciously like a policy.