Health inequalities both contribute to and derive from inequalities in life more broadly, roundtable hears
2 Mar 2022
The British Academy, the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences, and the Academy of Medical Sciences, the UK’s national academy representing the diversity of medical science, were asked by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to explore the extent to which the impact of COVID-19 is distinguishable from place-based health outcomes over the past 200 years.
The report, ‘Historic and Geographic Patterns of Health Inequalities’, summarises points emerging from a roundtable discussion jointly hosted by the two national academies. These include:
- Improving health in deprived areas will mean policymakers must tackle the underlying social determinants of health.
- Analysis of evidence from places that have seen the greatest differences over time, especially in recent decades, is crucial to identifying factors that help places deal with ‘shocks to the system’ – factors such as community cohesion, supportive housing policies or access to green spaces.
- Public and patient participation in policymaking is vital to addressing patterns of health outcomes. Examples of this in action include the Wigan Deal and the Hartlepool Action Lab's Stronger Neighbourhoods projects, which targeted poverty in addition to recognising and building on the strengths of local communities.
- The UK has some of the highest quality – and quantity – of datasets on health and inequalities, and policymakers could facilitate more data collection, better access to and linkages between datasets, as well as granting access of existing datasets to researchers from a wider range of disciplines through the Geospatial Data Strategy and other initiatives.
“The UK is facing a ‘COVID decade’ of societal impacts and the trajectory of the post-pandemic recovery will depend on targeting inequalities of all kinds. In this report, we talk about deprived areas and neglected communities, and we also consider inequalities of information and trust. Policymakers need to earn the trust of communities when making targeted interventions. Co-production of research and policy with public and patients is therefore essential, and this is supported by an extensive body of evidence.
“‘Levelling Up’ health divides has to involve a long-term national strategy to attract scientists and researchers to deprived regions. The UK needs research expertise from the SHAPE and STEM disciplines everywhere, to link up data capabilities and design policy interventions that suit the character of local areas and reflect the local communities’ perspectives.”
Professor Dame Theresa Marteau FMedSci FAcSS, Co-Chair of the joint roundtable and Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit, University of Cambridge, said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in health and life chances for those born and living in different parts of the UK.
“Halting and reversing these historic and geographical inequalities will require ambitious and sustained political action at local and national levels. This needs to build on extensive research conducted over the last century from across the humanities and sciences, designed together with local communities and robustly evaluated.”