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Hospital Healthcare Europe

Healthcare inequalities: Who will win your vote?

14 April, 2010  

By Hiriyti Bairu

The race for election is underway with Labour and Conservatives fighting head to head for votes across the country. Votes will be won for the issues that both parties promise to address. However will the elected party deliver its promise?

The hotly debated subject of health inequalities in the UK is one that the Government needs to tackle if it is to lessen the gap between rich and poor.

The Conservatives argue that there must be a focus on reducing inequality, through locally-led public health strategy and within government policy.

For this to take effect such initiatives need to explore other avenues that impact on the health of the nation. On average there are one million children in England living in poor housing. This has had an effect on their mental and physical health. Research suggests that there is a link between health and housing, for example, homes with damp or mould may cause recurring health problems such as asthma or respiratory problems among children. Health hazards such as using gas cookers, which may cause respiratory infections in infants, initiatives to install or improve heating systems have proved to be successful in reducing the potentially harmful effects of damp on the health on children.

As well as overcrowded households, the surrounding environment a child may live in, can affect a child’s well being, for example living in areas with high level of crime so children cannot freely play outdoors. This can have a bad effect on children’s psychological well-being. There is a social stigma attached to poor housing which affects both parents and children. The Conservatives believe Labour’s planning strategy has prevented the market building new homes with gardens and parking spaces. The Tories have pledged to build more homes but so in a way that protects the environment and provides the infrastructure to support local communities.

The Labour government has achieved some of their goals which aim to eradicate health inequalities in England. In the last ten years life expectancy has improved every year and figures now stand at 77.3 for men and 81.6 for women in England. The number of children living in poverty in this country has halved since 1998-99. The proportion of people living in poor housing has fallen considerably and over a million social homes have improved in standards.

The WHO/Europe housing programme hopes to tackle the following main issues: home safety and accidents, indoor air quality, thermal comfort and energy, residential environments and physical activity, effects on mental health, the challenge of ageing populations. It will seek to find out the positive effect the implementation of local action plans for housing rehabilitation will have.