European decision makers take forward DRIVERS recommendations to improve health equity

On Tuesday 3 February, EuroHealthNet held a conference co-hosted by Julie Ward MEP (S&D, UK) and Eider Gardiazabal Rubial (S&D, ES) as part of DRIVERS for Health Equity to present its policy recommendations for improving health equity and to build support for taking them forward. As noted by Julie Ward MEP, “concern about global health challenges should not obscure the fact that serious differences in health exist between social groups in Europe”.

For more than three years, scientists, civil society organisations and representatives from public health and businesses collaborated to find out how health equity can be improved through action on three of the most important drivers of health: early childhood, employment & working conditions, and income & social protection. As a result of their efforts, which have included many peer-reviewed journal articles and several reports compiling the latest evidence, DRIVERS has identified four principles to guide the development and implementation of policies to improve health and reduce health inequalities.

As outlined by Professor Sir Michael Marmot in a keynote speech, these are:

  1. Universality of access: for example, provision of affordable, high-quality pre-natal and early years services for all.
  2. Addressing disadvantage: for example, providing targeted cash transfer programmes, specialist welfare services, and individualised active labour market programme support within a universal social protection system.
  3. Accounting for context and respecting rights: for example, ensuring that good practices are properly evaluated so they do not lose effectiveness when implemented in new contexts, and respecting the rights of the people concerned.
  4. Evidence-based policy: for example, making sure that policies are based on established models of good practice and evaluated both in terms of economic and social/health benefits.

The recommendations received broad support and endorsement, including from Nessa Childers MEP (S&D, IE) and Biljana Borzan MEP (S&D, HR). Moreover, several decision makers made concrete commitments to advance them:

  • Cristian-Silviu Buşoi MEP (EPP, RO) stated that “DRIVERS is an important step forward in tackling health inequalities”, and indicated his commitment as a member of the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) to encourage every member state to implement a cross-sectoral strategy to tackle health inequalities.
  • Rudi Van Dam (Vice-chair Indicators’ Sub-Group, Social Protection Committee) commented that “DRIVERS’ recommendation are impressive, very detailed, evidence-based, and integrated across the life course… previously the SPC has had to rely on research from the USA but now it can make use of EU evidence”. He proposed organising an event where DRIVERS’ researchers can present their findings and discuss the policy implications in more depth directly with representatives of the member states in the SPC-ISG.
  • Eider Gardiazabal Rubial MEP (S&D, ES) pledged to make efforts to ensure that Juncker’s investment package focuses on social investment – an area where DRIVERS’ recommendations and principles can swiftly be put into practice.
  • Finally, Ralf Jacob (DG EMPL, European Commission) explained that DRIVERS’ recommendations are in synergy with many of the EC’s policy goals, including social protection and social investment, employment, and health and safety at work, and could help in the development of a Joint Assessment Framework for health. He argued that the Mid-term Evaluation of the 2020 Strategy represents a real opportunity to use the new knowledge so as to inform the European strategy for the next five years.

Stressing the importance of research and evidence-based policy, Caroline Costongs (Managing Director, EuroHealthNet) observed that: “EU-funded research into the key socio-economic factors determining health and well-being in Europe is crucial for developing effective policy responses. EuroHealthNet calls on the European Commission to assure such funding for public health research remains available in new Horizon2020 work programmes”.

Contact information

  • For more information on DRIVERS click here, or contact Claudia Marinetti, EuroHealthNet Research Manager.
  • For more information on EuroHealthNet’s European Centre for Innovation, Research & Implementation in Health & Wellbeing (CIRI), click here.
  • To follow the DRIVERS project on Twitter click here.


  • DRIVERS (2012-2015) is co-ordinated by EuroHealthNet in co-operation with expert research institutions, and networks of businesses and advocacy organisations. It is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013).
  • The full list of publications is available on the DRIVERS website.


Picture: Julie Ward - Member of the European Parliament ; Sir Michael Marmot - UCL Institute of Health Equity; Caroline Costongs - EuroHealthNet Managing Director