This well-attended plenary session saw four health inequalities-focused projects funded by the Seventh Framework Programme (DEMETRIQ, DRIVERS, SILNE and SOPHIE) present policy pitches to a government minister acted out by Harry Burns (ex-Chief Medical Officer for Scotland).
Margaret Whitehead opened the session by making the case for fairer pay and better job security, particularly for the worst off. This case was based on the findings of a natural policy experiment examining the effect of the UK’s national minimum wage by Reeves et al., 2014. This wage, which took effect in 1999, appeared to improve self-rated health scores and resulted in people feeling under less financial stress.
Next, Johannes Siegrist explained that there is a steep social gradient in risk of suffering work-related stress, with the lowest occupational groups much more likely to suffer than the highest occupational groups. The reasons are not only because people in lower positions experience stressful working conditions more often, but because protective resources and coping abilities are less frequent among them too. As a result, it is particularly important to improve the working conditions of lower socio-economic workers and that the budgets allocated to improving working conditions are not rolled back in the name of neoliberal policies and strong fiscal consolidation measures.
Anton Kunst from SILNE then explained that there is a clear social gradient in smoking initiation among youth in Europe. As such, smoking cessation policies should tackle this social gradient to level up health. However, while research from this project does show that tobacco control measures have effects across the social gradient they seem to do little to tackle it. He advocated stronger supply-side policies (e.g. product composition, sales, advertisements, etc.,) and equity-oriented demand-side programmes that, for example, focus on disadvantaged youth.
Closing the session, Carme Borrell from SOPHIE presented a video about a neighbourhood urban renewal law in Catalonia. This aimed to improve the physical and social conditions of neighbourhoods, for example, by improving accessibility, increasing green spaces and encouraging social use of urban spaces. Taking a holistic and cross-sectoral approach, it resulted in improved self-rated health in intervention neighbourhoods compared with control neighbourhoods. Moreover, the health effects were greater in the more deprived neighbourhoods, showing such a law could help improve health equity. Overall, Carme Borrell made the case that housing and living conditions should not be forgotten as part of efforts to tackle inequalities in health.