Monday 28th July 2014
The great health divide is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society.
Despite the best efforts of successive governments and their raft of strategies and initiatives, stark health inequalities still exist between the poorest and richest parts of the country.
Indeed, males who live in poorer areas in Scotland can live 20 years less than those in better off areas.
Here in Inverclyde, mortality rates from all causes including coronary heart disease are higher than the Scottish average.
The Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee, which I convene, is currently conducting an inquiry to see how the health gap can be reduced.
One of the clear messages coming from those who have given evidence is that we can’t view health inequalities in isolation.
Poor health is also a product of such things as low pay, lack of jobs and educational opportunities and poor housing.
To reduce health inequalities, health measures on their own are important, but won’t suffice. As one of the bodies providing evidence put it “The fundamental challenge presented is how we tackle unjust inequities across society as a whole.”
Another key message coming from witnesses to our inquiry is the importance of early intervention. By providing children with a healthy, nurturing, stable environment early on, the better the chance they will have of living a long and healthy life.
Tackling health inequalities is not simply a matter of social justice. As one economist said in his appearance before the committee “the earlier in life that a pound is spent, the greater the economic benefit.” It would seem that it makes good economic sense as well.