What works in reducing inequalities in child health ?

Helen Roberts, author of What works in reducing inequalities in child health? which was published earlier this year, writes about a forthcoming event of interest to readers of this blog:

What works in reducing inequalities in child health? Free half day meeting at Gresham College, London on 4 October

Gresham College, close to the wealth of the City of London, might seem an odd venue for an afternoon on what works, what counts and what matters in relation to reducing inequalities in health, but it provides a unique, and entirely free, access to education, discussion and learning, for absolutely anyone who cares to come along, with no fees, no fuss, and no examinations.

We tend not to be very perky as a nation, though with a vestige of post Olympics and Paralympics perkiness, a meeting that might be about the positive things that have been done and might be done is needed. After all, the NHS was set up at a time when we were much worse off as a nation than we are now.

But what a difference a decade or two makes, at least at the level of rhetoric. When I was looking after R&D for Barnardo’s, we commissioned and published Richard Wilkinson’s Unfair Shares (Barnardo’s 1995). The then secretary of state for health, Virginia Bottomley wrote to the Head of Barnardo’s to say how disappointed she was that Barnardo’s had taken this step. To his credit, he didn’t flinch, saying that there was a debate to be had. Indeed.

Shortly before becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron took a line rather more Wilkinsonian than Bottomleyian. In his Hugo Young Memorial Lecture in 2009, he said: “..it is pointless to draw dividing lines where none exist.. Ask anyone of any political colour the kind of country they want to see and they’ll say a Britain that is richer, that is safer, that is greener but perhaps most important .. a country that is fairer and where opportunity is more equal….the incredible wealth of the City exists side-by-side with some of the poorest neighbourhoods in our country. ..Bringing these two worlds closer is a multi-faceted endeavour: moral, social, and of course economic. Research by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett has shown that among the richest countries, it’s the more unequal ones that do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator. In The Spirit Level, they show that per capita GDP is much less significant for a country’s life expectancy, crime levels, literacy and health than the size of the gap between the richest and poorest in the population. So the best indicator of a country’s rank on these measures of general well-being is not the difference in wealth between them, but the difference in wealth within them”.

The front of The Spirit Level doesn’t (yet) have a banner saying ‘David Cameron agrees with us’. But maybe the PM will drop into Gresham on October 4. And why don’t you? Chaired by Andrea Sutcliffe, the new CEO of SCIE (the Social Care Institute for Excellence), I will introduce an afternoon’s discussions including Danny Dorling from Sheffield, on the positive moves made and still to be made, Judith Green from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on positive transport policies, and Sharon Witherspoon, the Director of the Nuffield Foundation, on new thinking in the 3rd sector. All will be rounded up by three young people, Zara Todd, Tabitha Manzuangani and Ben Farnes talking about what has ‘worked’ for them, and what they think might work well for others.

There is more information and registration links here.

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