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How do non-health charities help reduce health inequalities?

Breaking through the Brexit negotiation headlines yesterday was a different story on how Britain is distinguishing itself from Europe.

Our life expectancy is falling behind that of other countries on the continent, including France, Germany, Estonia and Romania said the The Times’ front page, which covered analysis from world health expert Sir Michael Marmot.

What’s driving this disparity? ‘[Marmot] says “austerity is an obvious candidate”’ the piece reads ‘with health and social care spending under pressure and real wage growth slower in Britain than in any other country except Greece.’

As this latter point suggests, the UK’s health isn’t solely dependent on levels of NHS funding.

Health is as much about keeping people well as it is about treating them, and our wellness doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Health is as much about keeping people well as it is about treating them when they fall ill. And our wellness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s affected by social, economic and environmental factors: from good housing to good work, from supportive families and communities, to the quality of our surroundings—the air we breathe, green and clean spaces, and access to healthy food.

Take these social determinants of health and then consider other recent headlines—housing crisis, low wages and insecure work, social isolation, poor air quality, and rising food prices—and the news about the nation’s life expectancy becomes less of a surprise.

At NPC, we’re working with the Health Foundation and the Institute of Health Equity on the role of charities in driving the social determinants of health agenda. At a recent event for this research, Sir Michael Marmot said, ‘What we really need is to have local government, central government and the voluntary sector working in concert … [social determinants of health] is a place that the charitable sector can get involved.’

Charities may sense that their work has a positive impact on the health of their beneficiaries, even if it’s not explicitly part of their mission.

Plenty of charities that are not primarily ‘health’ focused already know that their work may impact a person’s health, even if it’s not explicitly part of their mission. Homeless charities will know all too well the toll that being without a secure home takes on a person’s physical and mental health. The impact of loneliness is widely reported, so those charities building communities and social ties will be playing a part in tackling this health hazard.

But while many organisations may sense that their work is having a positive impact on the health of their beneficiaries, they may find it harder to back this up with evidence. So we’re working to produce a guide to help charities navigate the world of the social determinants of health, and understand the research that exists.

Underpinned by a review of the evidence pulled together by the Institute of Health Equity, we’ll be producing short summaries of seven different social determinants of health:

  1. Family
  2. Friends and communities
  3. Housing
  4. Education
  5. Employment
  6. Money and resources
  7. Our surroundings

The idea is that charities addressing these social determinants will be able to better understand, improve and demonstrate their contribution to health to funders, supporters, beneficiaries, policymakers and the public.

We’ll also be taking this work out on the road to present our findings and host a discussion. Sign-up for Bristol, Liverpool and Birmingham events is now open. To express your interest in attending the Leeds event (sign-up for which will launch soon) email events@thinkNPC.org.

As Sir Michael Marmot put it: ‘If charities are taking action to address the social determinants of health … they are working in the cause of social justice. And I think that’s helpful to know every day when you get up, that you’re trying to make the world a more just place.’

One Comment

  1. Hope you have seen the report that the Advice Services Alliance produced with the Low Commission in 2015 on the Role of Advice Services in Health Outcomes. Sir Michael Marmot kindly provided the introduction and helped launch the report. Advice services provide help with problems across the whole range of areas you describe and there is good evidence to demonstrate the impact legal help has on mental well-being and physical health.

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