This week I gave my inaugural lecture to my first-year medical students. My message was simple: everything affects our health.
Who we are, what we do, where we work, who we love, where we come from, everything. That is why, as we move through the fire of the trash can that is our current government and its stubborn loyalty to Trusonomics, it’s worth considering what all this turmoil means for our health and well-being. While the chancellor and the prime minister seem unconcerned about economic forecastsWe, at Inequalities in Health Alliance, have been making our own predictions about what these new changes in the economy mean for our health. It’s not pretty
Take the rise of the energy cap about 27 percent which took place last week. It’s not just a pocketbook concern, this has very real and tangible ramifications for health. The IHA has revealed shocking new figures about how badly health will be affected by the cost-of-living crisis.
A whopping 69 percent of people are worried about whether they will be able to heat their homes to stay healthy this winter due to the economic downturn. To help counter these concerns, 75 percent of people have said they will heat their homes less than the previous year this winter.
While that may seem like a sensible and prudent approach given the uncertainty, not everyone can afford to throw on another jersey. About 12 percent of people reported that they had been told by their healthcare professional that they needed to keep their home warm to avoid health problems this winter. Unfortunately, 14 percent already know that if they need to heat their homes to prevent a member of their household from getting worse, they won’t be able to afford it.
We have always known that cold and damp houses cause illness. But we often forget that the disease costs the NHS money. Money you don’t have. Money Trussonomics has just left its coffers. how much does one cost cold house really add to the NHS bill? Even those who face big jumps in their household bills will object to new NHS estimates that it will now spend at least £2.5 billion a year the treatment of diseases directly related to cold and damp homes.
Think about the enormity of those figures for a moment. The implication of these findings. The impact of money on health. Imagine not being able to heat your house to prevent the health of your child, your partner, your father, your friend from getting worse. Imagine watching them fall helplessly into even worse health, through no fault of their own. Or yours. Are you still heartbroken, because I am. And I haven’t even told you the worst.
Cold homes are not just a problem in and of themselves, they are an example of the stark and growing health inequalities in our country. By definition, “health inequality” means unequal health within a population, and for the most part it is avoidable and unfair. Health inequality is not solved by putting on another sweater. Countries and governments can choose to address it or not.
Inequality was finally getting the attention it deserved thanks to the Covid focuswith the government even commissioning a report on health disparities and how to “fix” them by 2030. But that was the Johnson administration and this is the Truss administration, so it is remarkable that when Therese Coffey announced her Priorities “ABCD” as secretary of health he left out a rather crucial letter of the alphabet: H.
That report? Inside sources say it has been “canned” because the notion of health disparities clashes with the ideology of the new government. It was probably burned for heat as part of the efficiency savings required of ministerial services. Inequalities in the economy are a priority for this government, not health.
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The Department of Health and Social Care will now neither confirm nor deny its commitment to lower the 19-year gap in life expectancy between rich and poor, thereby improving health in our country. He’s too busy focusing on money. But money is an integral part of health. While the economy stagnates and the government promotes a policy of rich getting richer, It’s worth remembering that doesn’t just mean the poor get poorer, it also means they get less healthy.
The economy does not exist in a vacuum. Sick people can’t help us get well, they are too busy trying to get well. As we enter this new world of high energy caps, inflation, rising interest rates, mortgage problems, and pension fears, Trussonomics is widening the gap between the healthy and the unhealthy along with the yawning chasm that already exists between the rich and the poor in Britain.
Following this path, we will all see the year poorer and sicker than ever. Because at the end of the day everything affects our health.
Dr Alexis Paton is Professor of Social Epidemiology and Sociology of Health and Co-Director of the Center for Health and Society at Aston University. Dr. Paton is also Chairman of the Committee on Ethical Issues in Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Medical Ethics.