A new report on ‘Health Inequalities in Europe: Setting the Stage for Progressive Policy Action, published by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and the Think Tank for Action on Social Change (TASC) was launched in Brussels on 10th October, to mark both World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day – a fitting moment to present new evidence on social and health inequalities and present policy recommendations to support the most marginalised and disadvantaged in society.
Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus, University of Nottingham and co-founder of The Equality Trust, was the guest speaker at the launch event. His first book, “The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing” which he co-authored, demonstrates how in countries regarded as more unequal, citizens are considered worse of in regards to public health, non-communicable diseases and education. Moreover, income inequality steepens the social gradients and tends to impact the quality of relationships in society, seen through weakened community engagement, social relationships and higher homicide rates. Inequality also impacts the individual, leaving people more prone to anxiety, depression and chronic stress. The book points to the fact that measures of well-being in high-income countries no longer seem to be rising and suggests a new focus on prioritising improvements in quality of life and of the social environment.
The new report on ‘Health Inequalities in Europe’ ” presented recent findings on inequality and its psychological impact on health, as well as how it influences the value we put on ourselves in terms of superiority and inferiority. Divided into three sections it analyses the extent of health inequalities witnessed between European countries as well as within countries; focuses on determinants of health inequalities, mainly health systems, economic policy and social determinants; and presents the impact of health inequalities on welfare and associated economic costs.
The report concludes with policy recommendations, proposing a progressive agenda to combat health inequalities, and so achieve the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the main takeaways are the vital role institutions play in reducing inequalities and the need for coordinated actions and policy coherence to change the status quo. Furthermore, social policies are unlikely to make an impact on their own, whereas the coupling of health and social policy with economic policy can have a greater influence on the social determinants of health. Lastly these policies should be holistic, taking into account the multifaceted determinants of health, be evidence-based and be developed in consultation with civil society.
Cecilia Laura Kolding Andersen