2015 - A year to tackle inequality, by Leonardo Palumbo

23 January 2015

At EuroHealthNet 2014 was a busy year as it transformed into a new Partnership offering various opportunities for participating in new ways on building knowledge, developing capacities to act and influencing policies in the field of health. 2014 was also an eventful year in EU health policy, with both the European Parliament elections and the subsequent approval of a new College of Commissioners. The new College of Commissioners and European Parliament will be responsible for a Mid-term Review of the Europe 2020 Strategy this implies an evaluation of economic governance, the response to the crisis,   and important pieces of legislation that impact on the environment, health, employment and on many other areas close to the heart of people living in Europe.  The end of 2014 also saw economic policy heavyweights, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Economic Forum (WEF), advise world leaders to address inequality.  The OECD report highlighted that inequality is bad for growth and the WEF report identified rising income inequality as the biggest challenge to be faced in 2015.

These reports add to an existing body of research that more equal societies perform better and that there are opportunities to act to reduce inequalities. This week (21 - 24 January 2015) in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, business leaders and decision makers were discussing solutions to the twin challenge of inequality and climate change. To provide policy makers a tool to analyse if all policy options are being used, the WEF published 14 measures of inclusive growth.  The tool encourages governments to measure minimum wages, trade union membership, investment in public services and corruption as part of an action plan for tackling rising inequality.

Addressing inequalities is a political choice and responsibility of governments across the political spectrum  that requires leadership and uptake from local communities. Inequalities are also linked to health inequalities and the differences in health status must be addressed. For insight in how this can be done at the national level, we can look how health inequalities are being addressed in Scotland both at the political level and in community planning. The Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee released a report into health inequalities confirmed that most of the primary causes of health inequalities are rooted in wider social and income inequalities. On this basis the Scottish Government announced that reducing health inequalities is to be a priority for the NHS as well as the establishment of partnerships.  The Scottish Government’s Ministerial Taskforce on health inequalities (that was originally convened in 2008) is also prioritizing wider social inequalities and involves a range of partners across central and local government, other departments in the public sector and the third sector. The taskforce will establish a Health and Community Care Delivery Group with an inequalities action group, to support changes in community planning partnerships.  For more information on what is happening in Scotland, please contact EuroHealthNet member, NHS Scotland.  

There is still work to be done at the EU level that was demonstrated by the recent European Economic and Social Developments in Europe 2014 report. This report highlighted that countries providing high quality jobs, effective social protection and investing in human capital have proved to be more resilient to the economic crisis.  In looking back at the legacy of the recession, the review also examines the potential long-term impact of the crisis on health determinants (i.e., unemployment, quality of work, precarious living conditions); and the risk  of increasing health inequalities between social groups and Member States. The evidence shows that being unemployed or insecure in one’s job has a strong negative effect on life satisfaction and health. The review also drew attention to the impacts on depression, suicide,  obesity, the use of alcohol and other substances, and  accessing or paying for healthcare as long-term societal impacts.

EuroHealthNet is keen to support further action and work on health inequalities at the EU level. For this reason, EuroHealthNet is co-organising a debate with Members of the European Parliament, a representative from the EU Social Protection Committee, Commission officials, and academics on 3 February to conclude the DRIVERS (2012-2015) FP7 funded research project.  The debate will focus on policies proven to work in employment, early child hood development and social and income protection  which can shape future EU policies and programmes in these fields. Join us on the 3rd February to be part of our efforts to put health and social equity on the agenda for the European Parliament and work with us this year to encourage action to reduce inequalities.

  • More information on our event is available here.
  • More information on EuroHealthNet and how you can join PHASE, the Platform for Action on Health and Social Equity, is available here.